One in five Canadian sausages contain undeclared species

A study has found that 20 per cent of sausages sold in Canada don't contain the meat indicated on the label.

The survey by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) - which sampled 100 raw meat sausages on sale in grocery stores across the country - used DNA barcoding to determine the species of meat present and compared it to what was declared on the packaging. Where unlisted material was discovered the identity of the species was found using a gene sequencing technique called digital PCR.

In 95 per cent of cases the predominant species matched the label, but the CFIA scientists found that one third of turkey sausages - five of 15 samples tested - were in fact chicken. All told, one quarter of the chicken sausages tested had DNA from other species, while undeclared DNA was also found in beef (6 per cent) and pork (5 per cent) sausages.

Out of 27 beef sausages, seven samples also contained pork, and two contained more than 5 per cent pork indicating this wasn't a trace reading. From 20 chicken sausages, four contained turkey, two at more than per cent, and one sample contained beef at up to 5 per cent. Two out of the 38 pork sausages were mixed with beef at 1 to 5 per cent levels.

The finding comes as the first jail sentences have been levied for the perpetrators of the notorious horsemeat scandal that emerged in the UK in 2013, and suggests that the food industry still has a big problem with mixing of meat species used in processed foods.

"Our results suggest that the vast majority of products contain mostly the declared species. This is encouraging, but even small amounts of undeclared species can have potential human health implications," write the researcher in the journal Food Control.

"Complete or partial substitution, whether intentional or unintentional, may introduce food pathogens or allergens to a product or affect personal or religious beliefs."

They note that studies in other countries have revealed levels of mis-labelling of up to 70 per cent, with products either wholly or partially substituted with species not listed on the label "including pork, horse, chicken and others."

What is unclear at the moment is how much of this adulteration is deliberate fraud, or the result of accidental contamination - for example if there is insufficient cleaning of equipment between grinding of different meats.

In the case of turkey sausages found to be chicken, the CFIA suggest this may well be a result of economically-motivated fraud as the cost of turkey was higher in Canada at the time the samples were collected.

The work provides a baseline measurement of sausage adulteration in Canada that "highlights the need for ongoing monitoring of these products," they conclude.

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