High levels of fat, salt and kilojoules make most fast foods a sitting duck for nutritionists’ condemnation. But what‘s really inside the squishy bun, the crispy nugget or hash browns? And has lard really turned up in the soft serve or pink slime in the burgers?
You can now ask McDonald’s any of these questions — or anything else. Connection is via your Facebook login, so the first question may be whether this will lead to some targeted advertising.
Crikey checked how well a few replies stacked up with the more detailed facts already available …
Q. “What percentage of your chicken nuggets are actual meat vs. muscle, tendon, cartridge [sic], organs, and carcass?”
A. “Chicken McNuggets are made with 100% Australian chicken breast (which is muscle) with some skin. This makes up 95% of the meat portion with the remaining 5% of ingredients being water, salt and mineral salts, which help retain moisture in the meat for succulence. We hope that answers your question and we hope to see you soon!”
Website fact check: McNuggets contain chicken, water, flour (maize, bleached wheat), salt, canola oil, thickener (1404), raising agents and mineral salts (341, 451, 450, 500, 541, 551, 327), spice and wheat starch. The McNuggets are cooked in a canola oil blend, but we’re not told how much oil is absorbed. All the additives are legal, but even if they make up only 5% of the final product, you might ask why McDonald’s adds 15 ingredients to the chicken (McBites have 25). And how much is “some” chicken skin? The nutrition information tells us six nuggets (about 100g) have 18g of fat. If the “95% of the meat portion” were all chicken breast, it would contribute 1.5g of fat. So “some skin” plus the canola oil blend would contribute 16.5g of fat — or 92% of the fat.
Verdict: Heavy on spin and lacks information on what “some skin” means.
Q. “What meat is in your sausage?”
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A. “Thanks for asking us about our sausage patties, Sue! Like our beef patties, our breakfast sausage patties are made from export quality Australian beef. The difference is the seasoning mix, which makes our sausage patties especially scrumptious. If you’d like to find out more about our ingredients, follow this link.”
Website fact check: The sausage patty contains: beef, seasoning — salt, dried glucose syrup (from wheat), sucrose, spices, vegetable powders (garlic, onion), mineral salt (341), hydrolysed vegetable protein (from soy), antioxidant (306), canola oil, spice extracts. The accompanying bun has another 20 ingredients plus 18 more in the cheese slice plus canola oil, emulsifiers, flavouring, colouring and an acidity regulator. The sausage contains beef, but it comes with 54 ingredients, including six emulsifiers, five different acidity regulators, three colourings, several doses of regular salt plus two mineral salts, two dough conditioners and a couple of preservatives. There’s sugar in the bun and more in the sausage patty, along with dried glucose.
Verdict: At least the answer gave a direct link to the detail, which would surely turn anyone off the product.
Q. “How are hash browns made?”
A.”Hi Mindi, we are guessing you are curious how the Hash Browns are made — all the way from potato to fryer. The process starts with the same Russet Burbank, Ranger Russet and Shepody potatoes that our Australian fries are made with. The potatoes are sorted where the smaller potatoes are selected for the exclusive Hash Brown line. They’re peeled and scrubbed before cutting, then blanched and cubed to a specific size. Some dehydrated potatoes are added to help bind the potato pieces together when they are formed to that perfect Hash Brown shape. They are then par-fried and frozen until delivered to and cooked at our restaurants. It’s a lot of work, but we think perfect crispy Hash Browns are worth all the effort!”
Website fact check: Hash browns are indeed made from potato, but they also contain canola oil, salt, dextrose (from maize), emulsifier (471), preservatives (450, 222), antioxidant (320) and pepper extracts.
Verdict: I’m unsure of the relevance of the size of the potatoes, but I am sure it would have been useful to mention the salt, sugar (dextrose) and additives.
Q. “What are the ingredients in Big Mac sauce?”
A. “Hi Michelle, we get asked this one a lot! Our world-famous special Big Mac sauce contains a delicious blend of relish, mustard, onion and garlic, along with other ingredients. You’ll find a complete breakdown of nutrition and ingredient information on our website. You can click here for a short cut. The only secret to its unique flavour is all in the ratio — and I’m afraid Michelle, we have to keep that one to ourselves!”
Website fact check: The “other ingredients” deserve attention. The major ingredient is soybean oil. The other 36 ingredients (actually more, since individual “spices” and “flavourings” aren’t listed) include high-fructose corn syrup, thickeners, colourings, emulsifiers and preservatives.
Verdict: The reply gave little information, but at least it sent Michelle to where she could find the answer.
So the takeaway message? McDonald’s deserves a tick for trying but could do better. Full marks, however, for the website listing ingredients and nutrition information for every product.