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What’s in a Burger?

Cleveland Clinic pathologists dissect fast food burgers to see what’s inside.

November 19, 2010 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited



Besides hormones, what else is in a burger? Published in the Annals of Diagnostic Pathology, anatomic pathologists at the Cleveland Clinic recently dissected burgers to see what was inside. “Fast food hamburgers: what are we really eating?” We eat 5 billion burgers a year and most consumers presume that the hamburgers they eat is composed primarily of meat, but what, did they actually find? They analyzed burgers from 8 different fast food joints and found them to contain the same tissues observed in hot dogs—that’s probably not a good sign. They found blood vessels… nerves… cartilage… and swarms of these little parasites, in burgers from a quarter of the fast food restaurants they sampled. No brains found, though, that’s good. But so how much was actually meat?
What percentage of a fast food burger is actually muscle flesh, as opposed to all these other tissues and parasites and fillers and everything?... Meat content in the hamburgers ranged… from 2% to 14.8%.
2% meat? They’re practically vegetarian!
Part of that other 85 to 98% that wasn’t meat: ammonia. Thanks to some excellent investigative reporting, we learned last year that a company developed a novel technique for killing all the fecal bacteria: injecting beef with ammonia. The meat industry loved it so much, it became a multi-billion dollar industry and and made it’s way into the majority of hamburger sold nationwide. McDonald’s, Burger King, and millions of pounds every year given to our kids at school.
This is what the process looks like. It produces what one USDA microbiologist called pink slime, saying he doesn’t even consider the stuff to be meat. And when the USDA says something isn’t meat….
Not even good enough, for prisoners in Georgia—they sent it back, because the meatloaf stank like window cleaner. Why would they feed this to schoolchildren? School lunch officials said they ultimately agreed to use the treated meat because it shaved about 3 cents off the cost of making a pound of ground beef. Three cents.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on meat. Also, there are 1,686 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

For some context, please check out my associated blog post: Vitamin B12: how much, how often?

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on meat. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

    • Jared Cook

      Hi Dr. Greger. We met in Toronto this summer and I love your site. I need some help.

      McDonalds in Canada is doing a huge campaign to help break the myths of their food. One of them is that their beef does not include any “pink slime”. They have very explicitly said this, they say it is not allowed in Canada. A lot of meat eaters are using this as a reason to eat their burgers without guilt.

      Do you know if this is true? Are they bending the facts?

      I would love to get your insight. Thanks!

  • BPC

    What a startling finding … 2% meat, yikes! The story on ammonia was also a real shocker…thanks for bringing this to our attention!

    But, to fully interpret the percentage meat figures, I think it is also important to consider the percentage of naturally occurring water in muscle tissue, which according to the USDA is up around 75% (

    When I read your cited source, namely, [Prayson et al., 2008], it turns out that they measured water content by weighing the tissue before and after dehydration. Thus, when they claim that nearly 50% of the burger is water, most of this is naturally occurring water. On a related note, they measured % meat by actually measuring % skeletal cells (after dehydration of tissue and infiltration of cells with a paraffin wax). In my experience, the process of paraffin embedding leads to large amounts of cell shrinkage and I wonder whether this fact may bias their interpretation of the % meat in a burger?

    Whatever the case, I still wouldn’t eat another burger to save my life!

  • Mike Quinoa
    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Thank you Mike!

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Also be sure to check out my associated blog post Vitamin B12: how much, how often?!

  • debbie

    Yikes! Just makes me more determined to keep educating myself. Your info is one of the few I really trust. Thank you!

  • Jan Arlen

    What causes high levels of ammonia in a person?

  • HereHere

    The process of disinfecting meat from the feces it comes into contact with during slaughter and processing with ammonia is not legal in Canada. It would be interesting to know what is in a Canadian fast food burger. I suspect a lot of them may be imported from the US but I don’t know. I guess you either get one (ammonia) or the other (feces).

  • Lloyd

    Excellent information.

  • VegAtHeart

    Testing: testing

  • yologuy

    Are u dumb?