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Smelling a rat in a bag of chips

Tales from a very special victims unit

2:06pm, March 1, 2011

CHICAGO — Some crime scenes are exactly the size of a breadbox.  

Every year forensic scientist Brendan Nytes sees a few cases where a dead rat or mouse is found in box of cereal, a jug of vinegar or a loaf of marble rye. His job is to distinguish genuine contamination from the surprising number of cases involving the intentional introduction of a dead rodent to a perfectly wholesome food product.

While critters do make their way into food accidentally, many arrive with outside help, said Nytes, a microscopist with Microtrace, a private forensic lab based in Elgin, Ill. A careful postmortem may lead investigators to a litigious consumer, vengeful employee or maybe just a kid with a sick sense of humor.

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