Did a study detect human DNA in many hot dog samples tested with a new type of technology, finding that many hot dogs, even vegetarian hot dogs, are made with human meat? No, that's not true: A startup named Clear Food, which was seeking Kickstarter funding at the time, published a report that identified 14.4 percent of the hot dogs sampled as problematic in some way. The human DNA found in some samples was described in the report as a "hygienic issue" of a non-harmful contaminant.
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This is what the post looked like on TikTok at the time of writing:
(Source: TikTok screenshot taken on Wed Nov 8 19:01:42 2023 UTC)
At the 1:18 mark of this video the narrator asks:
If human DNA has been found in hot dogs, where did they get the humans from?
At 18 seconds into the 2:11-minute video the greenscreen background shows a screenshot of some web search results, showing an excerpt from an October 27, 2015, Men's Health article titled, "Is There Really Human DNA in Hot Dogs?" The way this screenshot is presented is a type of information laundering -- using Men's Health magazine to support the narrator's suggestion there is human meat in hot dogs -- despite the fact the Men's Health article does not come to this conclusion. The Men's Health article includes comments from several food industry experts. One of the experts, Jonathan A. Campbell, an associate professor at Penn State University and expert in processed meats and food safety, told Men's Health:
'DNA is not a food safety hazard. ... Yes, humans work at meat processing establishments ... in most cases, a lot of humans are employed in the meat industry, and their DNA is throughout the building.'
Eight years have passed since Clear Food released its first report on their proprietary molecular, genomic testing of hot dogs as the company was looking for backers on Kickstarter in 2015. The report caught on with the media and articles were published by many large outlets such as Daily Mail, CNN, Huffington Post, The Atlantic and CNBC, but the Kickstart campaign failed to reach its goal.
Clearfood.com is still a registered domain, but it has no website. The web presence of the parent company is at the domain clearlabs.com. A site-specific search with Google shows the "Clear Food" branding absent from the current Clear Labs website. The "Hot Dog Report" that uses both the names Clear Labs and Clear Foods is no longer online but can be found archived by the Wayback Machine (and archived as a PDF) as early as October 23, 2015. The part of the report that was of keen interest to the press can be found under the heading "Our Results." These results also do not support the suggestion that there are pureed humans in hot dogs:
Of the 345 hot dogs and sausages Clear Food analyzed for this report, 14.4% were problematic in some way. Problems included substitutions and hygienic issues. Substitution occurs when ingredients are added that do not show up on the label. Hygienic issues occur when some sort of non-harmful contaminant is introduced to the hot dog, in most cases, human DNA. Here's what we found:
- Substitution: We encountered a surprising number of substitutions or unexpected ingredients. We found evidence of meats not found on labels, an absence of ingredients advertised on labels, and meat in some vegetarian products.
- Hygienic issues: Clear Food found human DNA in 2% of the samples, and in 2/3rds of the vegetarian samples.
In the archived PDF file of the report, but not in the archived webpage, a correction was issued regarding the portion of vegetarian products that were found to have contaminants. The correction reads:
*Correction: In a previous version of this report, the second bullet point under the 'Our Results' section read: 'Hygienic issues: Clear Labs found human DNA in 2% of the samples, and in 2/3rds of the vegetarian samples.' This bullet point has been corrected to read: 'Hygienic issues: Clear Labs found human DNA in 2% of the samples. 2/3rds of the samples with human DNA were vegetarian products.' The facts, cited correctly throughout the rest of the report, are that Clear Labs found human DNA in 2% of the 345 samples we tested. Of the six samples with human DNA, 4 (2/3rds) were vegetarian products. We apologize for the lack of clarity, and we regret the error. Thank you.
At the time, this report was not breaking actual news that human beings were being used as a meat ingredient in hot dogs. The analysis apparently found traces of human DNA, which Clear Labs considered to be a non-harmful contaminant. There were findings of animal meat substitution in products labeled as a different meat, and the report said 10 percent of the vegetarian hot dog samples contained some meat. The report did emphasize:
Finally, pork substitution is a more pernicious problem than we had suspected it might be. The Kosher products we tested were 100% pork free.