Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Food Science

First Advisor

Rosalee Hellberg

Second Advisor

Lilian Were

Third Advisor

Fred Caporaso


Mislabeling of ground meat products is a form of food fraud that can lead to economic deception and interfere with dietary restrictions related to allergens or religious beliefs. In various parts of the world, including Ireland, Mexico and Turkey, high levels of meat mislabeling have been reported between 2000-2015. However, there is currently a lack of information regarding this practice in the United States. Therefore, the objective of this study was to test a variety of ground meat products sold on the U.S. commercial market for the presence of potential mislabeling. Forty-eight ground meat samples were purchased from online and local retail sources, including both supermarkets and specialty meat retailers. DNA was extracted from each sample in duplicate and tested using DNA barcoding of the cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) gene. The resulting sequences were identified at the species level using the Barcode of Life Database (BOLD). Any samples that failed DNA barcoding went through repeat extraction and sequencing. Due to the possibility of a species mixture, these samples were also tested with real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) targeting beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, pork and horse. Of the 48 products analyzed in this study, 10 were found to be mislabeled, with nine containing multiple meat species. Meat samples purchased from online specialty meat distributors had a higher rate of being mislabeled (35%) compared to samples purchased from a local butcher (18%) and samples purchased at local vii supermarkets (5.8%). Horsemeat, which is illegal to sell on the U.S. commercial market, was detected in two of the samples acquired from online specialty meat distributors. Overall, the mislabeling detected in this study appears to be due to reasons such as intentional mixing of lower-cost meat species into higher cost products or unintentional mixing of meat species due to cross-contamination during processing.


This document is a thesis completed by Dawn Kane in 2015. The article of the same title that she coauthored with Dr. Rosalee Hellberg is available here.



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