9 Corporations That Have Sold You Beyond Questionable Meat

If Rick Ross is to be believed, he hustles every day. No matter how profound Rozay believes his hustle to be, ain't no hustle like a megalithic corporation's hustle, because a megalithic corporation's hustle is unchecked by basically any authority. Because of this, throughout the history of mass-produced fast food, there have been companies that sold fake meat, or at least hawked questionable animal carcass. From pink sludge at McDonald's to a lethal bacteria infecting Jack's box, these places that have sold fake meat are strewn across the American landscape like soot in a chimney sweep's lungs. 

The Internet has created a world in which speculation runs amok, and where everyone can spread rumors about fast food joints peddling fake or questionable meat or scamming customers with altered meat products. Almost every well-known fast food and restaurant chain has faced adversity from the competition, customers, and even the government, at times. How they handled these roadblocks, which range from fake meat controversies to questionable farming practices, varies greatly. Needless to say, not all press is good press

Curious as to whether you've accidentally put a questionable tube of meat in your mouth? Have a gander at which corporate food behemoths haven't been forthwith about what's in their meat (not as sexual as it sounds). Have your say on which handled its meat problem (or scandals) best, and which failed to get ahead of a PR disaster and sunk in a swamp of fetid flesh, in the comments below. 

Photo: walidhassanein / via Flickr

  • McDonald's Has Had A Cornucopia Of Fake Meat Controversies

    McDonald's Has Had A Cornucopia Of Fake Meat Controversies
    Photo: Bartolomeo Passarotti / Public Domain

    McDonald's is like the Yankees of fast food restaurants. And everyone wants to beat the Yankees. The company's ubiquity has led to a slew of PR nightmares, not the least of which were pink slime allegations, which accused McDonald's, along with various other companies, of using lean beef trimmings, a rubbery, pink substance produced by whipping beef trimmings (bits left over after the good cuts of meat have been removed from a cow's carcass) around in a centrifuge to remove fat and gristle. 

    The company has also come under fire for its chicken nuggets. Some claim they're the chicken equivalent of pink beef slime, others say there's no way something so cheap can be pure meat. McDonald's "debunked" myths about its nuggets in a video of their production, though as Lindsay Abrams points out in Salon, the video skips a key part of this process:

    "Skipping straight to the processing plant also allows the video to ignore what should be the most controversial ingredient: growth-promoting antibiotics. Routine use of the drugs is standard practice for many of the United States’ major poultry producers, a recent Reuters investigation revealed, contributing to the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance. Tyson is no exception — according to the documents uncovered by Reuters, ordered an antibiotic 'for use in the prevention of coccidiosis in broiler flocks, growth promotion and feed efficiency.'"

    Despite the bad press, by addressing the public's questions and creating seemingly honest videos, McDonald's persevered through these controversies. Rebranding efforts initiated in 2015 have the chain leaning towards a more upscale, minimalist vibe by tapping into local trends, with new menu items including guacamole burgers and breakfast bowls. 

  • Jack Had E. Coli In His Box And It Killed Four People
    Photo: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo / Public Domain

    In 1993, a Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak in the Pacific Northwest affected close to 400 customers over a period of a few months. A February 6, 1993 article from the New York Times paints a grim picture:  

    "The 60 Jack in the Box restaurants in the state have been barraged by anonymous telephone callers accusing them of being baby killers. Customers are scarce. And local newspapers have carried advertisements by lawyers offering to represent poisoning victims."

    The outbreak was lethal: Four people died from eating Jack in the Box or coming in contact with someone who did. It was a nightmare for the company, which blamed its supplier and slaughterhouse. Inconsistencies with government oversight of the fast food industry may have contributed to the outbreak, as state and federal laws differed on cooking temperature for meat. Some good came of the tragedy, as new regulations were put in place, to preventing it from happening again

  • KFC Fried Up Some Floor Meat In China In 2014
    Photo: José Maria Sousa de Moura Girão / Public Domain

    Kentucky Fried Chicken, more commonly called KFC after rebranding efforts, was once accused of shifting away from its original name because it doesn't use chicken mean, but rather "genetically manipulated organisms." Snopes shut this rumor down fast, but the fried chicken brand wasn't off the hook.

    KFC uses Asian meat supplier Shanghai Husi Food Co. for its restaurants in China. A 2014 report revealed some meat from this distributor was handled poorly, and even dropped on the ground. Though KFC suffered the brunt of the scandal due to its huge presence in China, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut were also affected (all three are owned by Yum! Brands). 

  • Chipotle Cut Off A Pork Supplier For Violating Standards Then Promptly Dished Out E. Coli
    Photo: Artist Unknown / Public Domain

    Few restaurants take promises as seriously as Chipotle. The Mexican food chain is unique for several reasons: It has a very simple menu that's completely customizable, there's no drive-thru option, and, it's... actually sort of healthy? Chipotle prides itself on its farm-fresh ingredients, which are locally sourced when possible. The chain has also claimed to only work with the best, most discerning meat distributors.

    The world learned what this meant in 2015, when Chipotle abruptly stopped serving carnitas. Company representatives explained they discovered their pork supplier was treating pigs inhumanely, or not to Chipotle standards. The company took the moral high ground, and didn't serve carnitas again until months later, after supposedly having found a new, better supplier. 

    Just when the restaurant thought it was in the clear, Chipotle served up two fresh E. coli outbreaks. As per the Centers for Disease Control, the problem was cleared up quickly, and Chipotle went to great lengths to assure customers it would never happen again. Still, business suffered at the time. 

  • Defending Itself Against Non-Meat Allegations, Taco Bell Pointed Out How Unhealthy It Is
    Photo: William Hogarth / Public Domain

    Ah, the halcyon days of 2011. The deaths of Steve Jobs, Osama Bin Laden, King Jong-il, Muammar Gaddafi. The Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. The Taco Bell scandal. Remember that one? 

    In that year, Alabama law firm Beasley Allen filed a lawsuit against the Tex-Mex food chain, accusing the corporation of lying about its meat. According to the suit, Taco Bell taco meat was only 35% beef, which isn't a high enough percentage to truthfully be labeled meat under USDA regulations.

    Taco Bell fought back, claiming its meat was 88% beef. The company released videos (including a parody) of its production process, offered information to refute the attorney claim, and even shared a full list of ingredients for its beef, the first ingredient in which is beef (which, yay? Maybe? Shouldn't it be? Since that's what it's called?).

    Still, this doesn't mean it's good for you. Associate Slate editor LV Anderson points out, "Most fast-food meat is very low quality—one study of fast-food hamburgers found that they contained connective tissue, blood vessels, peripheral nerves, adipose tissue, cartilage, and bone along with muscle tissue." Anderson suggests Taco Bell (and other fast food brands) use less meat and more filler for a healthier final product. 

  • Burger King Got Involved In A Flame-Grilled Horse Meat Controversy
    Photo: Illustrator Unknown / No Known Copyright Restrictions

    McDonald's less popular younger brother (but with kitsch appeal), Burger King has faced plenty of scrutiny over the years. In 2012, it was discovered Silvercrest Foods, an Irish meat supplier contracted with Burger King (and numerous other companies), was selling beef laced with horse meat. Burger King became embroiled in the scandal, though testing on its facilities and products show the chain never sold beef with horse in it (though the plant showed traces of horse DNA). 

    After the discovery, Burger King switched meat suppliers, and issued a statement declaring that, during transition, some items on their menu may not be available. This swift reaction, and the results of beef testing on BK products on facilities, resulted in a major win for the company and its public image.