Extrachromosomal DNA such as organelle DNA are increasingly targeted in molecular detection assays where samples have been degraded by physical or chemical means. Owing to multiple organelles per cell and greater copy numbers than nuclear genes, organelle gene targets provide a more robust signal in polymerase chain reaction (PCR), quantitative PCR (qPCR), and other emerging molecular technologies. Because of these advantages, direct analysis of organelle DNA in food matrices is used for detection of contaminants and identification and authentication of food ingredients and allergens. Non-nuclear DNA is also used as an assay normalizer for detection of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in foods. This review describes these protocols plus the effects of processing on efficacy, with special emphasis on thermally produced DNA fragmentation. Future research may incorporate molecular techniques beyond detection, used instead as time-temperature indicators in thermal food processing or quality indicators in food fermentation or acidification.