- Clear Labs, a food analytics company, has spent two years collecting food samples to compile what the company says is the world’s largest database of food genetic markers. Clear Labs hopes that food manufacturers will be able to use DNA data to improve management of the food supply.
- The company's first product, Clear View, is in private beta, and manufacturers can use it to identify the species of plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi in a food sample, such as separate samples of the pepperonis, cheese, sauce, and crust on a pizza.
- Clear Labs' technicians isolate and amplify DNA barcode regions for each sample and compare the DNA markers to those in their database to find one or more matches.
With this information, manufacturers could then determine "the authenticity of an ingredient" as well as whether "a food is contaminated by microbes, contains an allergen, or has certain genetically modified ingredients," Wired reported.
Testing for contamination is nothing new to the food industry, such as testing for E. coli or listeria. But "they’re not nearly as specific as the DNA," biologist Brent Mishler at UC Berkeley told Wired. In addition, traditional tests tend to check for one particular organism, such as gluten or salmonella.
Conversely, DNA barcoding will "pick up everything in a sample," such as what type of fish a manufacturer is using and whether it is contaminated with bacteria, all in the same test, according to Wired. Clear Labs' tests could even pick up on non-living substances, such as hormones, antibiotics, heavy metals, and pesticides, which could help with labeling and certifications or even prevent or reduce product recalls.
One issue manufacturers could face is that not all foods have their DNA intact once they've been processed, such as if they've been heated, which can break down DNA. However, manufacturers could remedy the situation by testing the products before sending them off to be processed further down the supply chain.
Eventually, similar tests could be required for manufacturers. The FDA recently released two finalized rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act, which outline ways in which food companies must create and document best food safety practices in their supply chains. Further testing, like Clear Labs' DNA barcoding, could eventually prove helpful.