What’s in a Burger?

What’s in a Burger?
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Cleveland Clinic pathologists dissect fast food burgers to see what’s inside.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

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 five billion burgers a year, and most consumers presume that the hamburgers they eat are composed primarily of meat. But what did they actually find?

They analyzed burgers from eight 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, 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 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 multibillion dollar industry, and made its way into the majority of hamburgers 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 it 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 three cents off the cost of making a pound of ground beef. Three cents.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

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 five billion burgers a year, and most consumers presume that the hamburgers they eat are composed primarily of meat. But what did they actually find?

They analyzed burgers from eight 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, 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 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 multibillion dollar industry, and made its way into the majority of hamburgers 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 it 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 three cents off the cost of making a pound of ground beef. Three cents.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Doctor's Note

What other potential dangers are associated with burger consumption?  Check out these videos:
Avoiding a Sugary Grave
Meat and Weight Gain in the PANACEA Study
Dead Meat Bacteria Endotoxemia

And check out my other videos on meat

For more context, also see 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.

16 responses to “What’s in a Burger?

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    1. 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!

  1. 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% (http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/Water_in_Meats/index.asp).

    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!

  2. 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).

  3. Does the % meat include the bun, cheese, pickle, mayo, etc. or is that %ge just the patty? The link to the underlying study only provides free access to the abstract. Thanks.

  4. Nope, that is literally just the patty. They ground up the patties from 8 different places. No condiments, no bun. Then they stained the samples and evaluated them under a microscope to see if the tissue of the patty was skeletal muscle (which is what we call “meat”) or what. The full article contains the microscope photos. Most of the weight of the patties was water, and there was also bone tissue, cartilage, etc. Also two different parasites were found. Very little skeletal muscle was present in any of the samples, and no more than 12% in any one patty.

    -Dr Anderson, Health Support Volunteer

  5. Gross! Beyond gross, it’s appalling and ought to be illegal or at least be slapped with a Not Safe To Eat warning. Seriously, all the nori seaweed sheets sold in California now have a Prop 65 Warning, I gotta believe a big mac is worse. Anyway, thank you for looking into that for me.

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