Clear Labs FAQs
Our first industry-facing report on hamburger products went live today. You can read the full food category report here. We’ve seen an enormous positive response to the report from the food industry, not to mention consumers, press, NGOs, and government agencies. Thank you for helping us get this far, this quickly.
We have been getting a ton of questions over phone, email and social media – more than we can manage to respond to individually. So we have compiled the most frequent questions and our official answers below. We’ll keep this page updated as more question come in. If your questions is not answered here, feel free to contact us! We’ll respond as soon as we can.
We’re creating these reports to serve the food industry and help retailers and manufacturers proactively identify and address threats and opportunities in their supply chains. We also want to demonstrate the types of broad insights next-generation sequencing (NGS) can generate so that the industry can get a glimpse into the power of the technology.
NGS, the technology we use to generate the insights found in the reports, is a relatively new concept for the food industry. Costs have only recently fallen to a level where this is even possible. Certainly genomic sequencing and analysis are in many ways the ultimate view into food quality and safety. That’s exciting. But it’s new territory for us all.
To many food retailers, manufacturers, suppliers, and even government regulatory bodies, these techniques are equally novel. Many of them have already called us, asking for our help in better managing their supply chain. They’ve spent years wondering and worrying about hidden risks and potential outbreaks that existing technologies simply can’t catch. They just haven’t, until now, had the means to conduct comprehensive food testing and verification at scale.
We are bullish about making these reports public, in large part because the food industry remains cautious about new technologies like next-generation sequencing. We’ve seen a uniformly strong response from some of the most forward-thinking manufacturers and retailers, but incumbents are slower to embrace. The only way to break through that wall is to be heard, and we’re confident this report will help us achieve that.
It’s important to note that NGS analysis is coming to the food industry no matter what. Our goal as a company is to help retailers and manufacturers protect their brands, mitigate risk, and future-proof their supply chains. We want to help the food industry get out ahead.
The meat industry is experiencing a sea change and we wanted to explore how one of America’s favorite foods is faring.
It’s an interesting category, and definitely one that’s being affected by changing consumer tastes. For example, we found that traditional beef burgers are being consumed less and less as meat prices are rising. In reality, the beef industry is facing some challenges. Simultaneously, alternative burger options are quickly gaining popularity. Vegetarian burgers, turkey burgers – you name it.
There are lots of factors affecting consumer preference – health factors, food trends. But we believe it also has a lot to do with consumer trust.
One of the questions we set out to answer is how the beef industry can differentiate in a struggling meat market, and how alternative burger products can continue to grow. Trust comes from consistently delivering safe and quality products.
We set out to help the burger industry do just that.
This report is completely self-funded by Clear Labs. No outside partners, companies, customers, or other entities funded this report or had any influence on or contribution to the research and testing.
Our data and findings are completely objective – we can’t emphasise that enough.
We say quite a bit about our methodology in the reports themselves. See that here.
We use the same industry-standard hardware and software that is used in the most advanced clinical genomics to sequence and analyze human DNA, but we have developed proprietary means of speeding the process for food testing, and ensuring accuracy by baselining results against the industry’s largest database of reference molecular signatures. You can read more about our technology here.
Our lab is obsessively maintained and our equipment is state-of-the art. We’ve built in more redundancies into our process than are frankly necessary in order to avoid mistakes.
Our in-house laboratory is accredited by A2LA for technical competence in the field of biological testing, in accordance with the recognized International Standard ISO/IEC 17025:2005 standards. Clear Labs has also met additional program requirements in the Biological field, including AOAC 2010 accreditation.
A2LA is the most experienced accreditation body in the U.S. offering food testing lab accreditation. Their accreditation requires proficiency in management of operations and technical reliability and accuracy. The combination accreditation program completed by Clear Labs has been identified by the FDA as the model they would utilize in tangent with the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
DNA can give us a comprehensive view of food authenticity, contamination, allergens, gluten, and GMOs, but it cannot pick up non-living additives like hormones or chemicals.
We are planning on adding additional non-DNA tests to our workflow in the future to make our reports even more comprehensive, including tests for pesticides, antibiotics, heavy metals, and hormones.
We talk about our sampling process in our reports here.
All samples used in the analysis have been independently sourced from public retailers, and no specific brands are mentioned outright. Our sample pools are representative of both national brands brands and those specific to the west coast.
No outside partners, companies, customers, or other entities had any influence on or contribution to the research and testing, and all sample information will remain anonymous. This is a firm policy that we cannot emphasize enough.
Finally, we take the privacy and security of customer data extremely seriously. Data from Clear Labs customers is never used in our industry reports. In fact, we go to great lengths to ensure this information is kept confidential.
While our tests pick up human and rat DNA, they cannot tell us the precise source of that DNA. In the case of human DNA, the most likely cause is hair, skin, or fingernail that was accidentally mixed in during the manufacturing process. With rat, it’s likely hair or feces.
While unsettling, the FDA actually allows a certain percentage of contaminants like rodent feces, insect parts, and even human DNA in products. The amounts we detected in our research all fell within the acceptable regulatory range as we understand them.
We generally think of this kind of trace contamination as a hygienic issue as opposed to a public safety concern. In other words, this is not going to make you sick.
However, as food testing technology gets more and more precise, we’re quickly approaching a “no tolerance” policy as the new standard. We’d love to see a food system in which this kind of contamination is wholly unacceptable, and we’re hoping our reports serve as a wake up call to industry.
The chance of that being the case is probabilistically close to zero.
Each sample is processed in two independent replicates to ensure that any signal we see is reproducible. In addition, in case of any suspicious findings, we go back to the original voucher and verify the finding with a specific independent assay.
In fact, we can assure you that hygienic issues like human DNA did not originate from our lab. Each scientist on our team has been forensically profiled, so any human DNA finding is matched against our staff profiles to guarantee it doesn't originate from our lab team.
Finally, our in-house lab is certified to the highest standards. We were recently accredited by the A2LA for technical competence in the field of biological testing. A2LA is the most experienced body in the U.S. offering food testing lab accreditation. You can read more about our accreditation here.
Food safety is something we take very seriously. We are not, however, a regulatory entity, and we don’t intend to be one. It is reasonable to expect that we are in communication with these agencies, and that we can accommodate their inbound requests for data, within reason.
While it is expected that we will collaborate with such entities, we will not usurp them. We have a tremendous amount of respect for the people and organizations who protect us. We’re going to stick to doing what we do best, and let others do the same.
Moreover, we reserve the right to proactively contact manufacturers, retailers, and/or regulatory bodies on a case-by-case basis if our testing reveals what we deem to be a potential hazard to public health.
To reiterate, our goal with these reports is to provide the food industry with actionable intelligence they can use to identify opportunities and weak spots in their supply chain, not to undermine the hard work the food industry does day in and day out to keep consumers safe.
Great question. We actually have a blog post on that very topic here. In short, Clear Food has become Clear Labs. We ultimately realized that the consumer-focused nature of Clear Food and our industry-focused goals at Clear Labs were marching towards the same goal – a better standard for food.
The Hot Dog report is still available for viewing on our new Reports page at ClearLabs.com. You can find it here.
Great question, but we’re not telling! We’re planning for several more industry-facing reports in new categories over the next 6 months. The early findings are fascinating and we encourage you to stay tuned to the latest.