Antibiotics in Fast Food: See How 25 Top Chains Rank

September 18, 2017
Antibiotics in fast food - Dr. Axe

Nutritional focus on fast food often hones in on calories, but antibiotics in fast food shouldn’t be ignored, either. A recent report released by the Center for Food Safety rates the top 25 American restaurant chains on antibiotics use in meat products. The results suggest we should definitely avoid some major chains at all costs.

And here’s a sneak peek at the Chain Reaction II report: a whopping 16 out of 25 companies scored an “F” rating. This is the second year of this eye-opening report, and it’s definitely worth examining before you choose your next quick meal. Antibiotic resistance is a serious, global health problem primarily caused by repeatedly feeding antibiotics to farm animals, which increases the formation of hard-to-treat, drug-resistant bacteria.

In the United States alone, drug-resistant superbugs infect more than 2 million people and kill at least 23,000 each year. (1) Tuberculosis, gonorrhea and pneumonia are all diseases that can now survive antibiotic treatment. You might already be aware of how stopping superbugs has grown into a global health crisis. But did you know that fast food chains are a big part of the problem? More specifically, the meat that these fast food chains are selling is the concern. Why? Because 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are actually marketed to animals, not sick people. (2)

Anything you can personally do to avoid unnecessary antibiotic exposure will go such a long way for your health. That’s exactly why I want to make sure the findings of this recent report reach you.


Antibiotics in Fast Food: The Rankings

The following Center for Food Safety grades show how each chain scored on a number of criteria. These include categories focusing on antibiotic use like “good policy across all meats,” “availability of meat produced without routine antibiotics” and “transparency:” (3)

Panera Bread: A

  • 1 of 9 (out of 25) companies to adopt publicly available policies that phase out routine antibiotics use in some or all of their meat and poultry supply.
  • 1 of only 3 chains to receive top points for having antibiotics use policies that apply to all types of meat they serve with time-bound commitments for implementation.
  • The only restaurant chain (along with Chipotle) to offer an array of meat options produced without the routine use of antibiotics, including pork and beef.
  • As of Fall 2016, 91 percent of all the meat and poultry it serves is raised without antibiotics.
  • The remaining 9 percent is chicken, turkey, pork and beef bought as part of secondary food products like soups, soufflés and salami.
  • Received top transparency points for fully responding to the survey, works with third-party auditors to evaluate supply chain practices covered by its policies and has audit standards that are publicly available (through the USDA’s Process Verified Program website, in most cases).

Chipotle Mexican Grill: A

  • 1 of only 3 chains to receive top points for having antibiotics use policies that apply to all the types of meat they serve with time-bound commitments for implementation.
  • Only restaurant chain (along with Panera) to offer an array of meat options produced without the routine use of antibiotics, including pork and beef.
  • Only received partial credit on auditing because they still rely on a combination of internal and third-party audits.

SUBWAY: B

  • 1 of 9 (out of 25) companies to adopt publicly available policies that phase out routine antibiotics use in some or all of their meat and poultry supply.
  • 1 of only 3 chains to receive top points for having antibiotics use policies that apply to all the types of meat they serve with time-bound commitments for implementation.
  • Has a 10-year timeline (through 2025) to complete its conversion to pork and beef raised without antibiotics.
  • Received top transparency points for fully responding to the survey, works with third-party auditors to evaluate supply chain practices covered by its policies and has audit standards that are publicly available (through the USDA’s Process Verified Program website, in most cases).

Chick-fil-A: B

  • 1 of 9 (out of 25) companies to adopt publicly available policies that phase out routine antibiotics use in some or all of their meat and poultry supply.
  • Received top transparency points for fully responding to the survey, works with third-party auditors to evaluate supply chain practices covered by its policies (chicken, in all cases), and has audit standards that are publicly available (through the USDA’s Process Verified Program website, in most cases).
  • They report that as of the 2nd quarter of 2016, it had converted “more than 23 percent” of its chicken supply to chicken raised entirely without antibiotics.

McDonald’s: C+

  • 1 of 9 (out of 25) companies to adopt publicly available policies that phase out routine antibiotics use in some or all of their meat and poultry supply.
  • Received a top score for having “good” policy content.
  • But in general, its policies only apply to chicken and still allow routine antibiotics use for “disease prevention” in the production of pork and beef served in their restaurants.
  • Received top transparency points for fully responding to the survey, work with third-party auditors to evaluate supply chain practices covered by its policies (chicken, in all cases), and has audit standards that are publicly available (through the USDA’s Process Verified Program website, in most cases).

Wendy’s: C

  • 1 of 9 (out of 25) companies to adopt publicly available policies that phase out routine antibiotics use in some or all of their meat and poultry supply.
  • Received a top score for having “good” policy content.
  • But in general, its policies only apply to chicken and still allow routine antibiotics use for “disease prevention” in the production of pork and beef served in their restaurants.
  • Received top transparency points for fully responding to the survey, work with third-party auditors to evaluate supply chain practices covered by its policies (chicken, in all cases), and has audit standards that are publicly available (through the USDA’s Process Verified Program website, in most cases).
  • They report that 50% of its chicken is raised without antibiotics important in human medicine, and that its entire chicken supply will comply with its policy by the end of 2017.

Taco Bell:  C-

  • 1 of 9 (out of 25) companies to adopt publicly available policies that phase out routine antibiotics use in some or all of their meat and poultry supply.
  • Received a top score for having “good” policy content.
  • But in general, its policies only apply to chicken and still allow routine antibiotics use for “disease prevention” in the production of pork and beef served in their restaurants.
  • Announced in April 2016 that it would source only chicken raised without antibiotics important to human medicine by early 2017.
  • Received top transparency points for fully responding to the survey, work with third-party auditors to evaluate supply chain practices covered by its policies (chicken, in all cases), and has audit standards that are publicly available (through the USDA’s Process Verified Program website, in most cases).

Pizza Hut: D+

  • 1 of 9 (out of 25) companies to adopt publicly available policies that phase out routine antibiotics use in some or all of their meat and poultry supply.
  • Received a top score for having “good” policy content.
  • But in general, its policies only apply to chicken and still allow routine antibiotics use for “disease prevention” in the production of pork and beef served in their restaurants.
  • Received top transparency points for fully responding to the survey, work with third-party auditors to evaluate supply chain practices covered by its policies (chicken, in all cases), and has audit standards that are publicly available (through the USDA’s Process Verified Program website, in most cases).

Papa John’s Pizza: D

  • 1 of 9 (out of 25) companies to adopt publicly available policies that phase out routine antibiotics use in some or all of their meat and poultry supply.
  • Received a top score for having “good” policy content.
  • But in general, its policies only apply to chicken and still allow routine antibiotics use for “disease prevention” in the production of pork and beef served in their restaurants.
  • Papa John’s commitment to no antibiotics only applies to chicken use in pizza toppings and poppers, but not their popular wings.
  • Of surveyed companies with passing grades, they stand out (in a negative way) for providing no information on supply chain auditing to evaluate compliance with its antibiotics use policy.
Antibiotics in fast food - Dr. Axe

Dairy Queen: F

  • Continues to have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of the meat they serve.
  • Continues to keep customers in the dark about their meat sourcing policies as this is the second year in a row that they have not responded to requests for information.

Denny’s: F

  • Continues to have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of the meat they serve.

Dunkin Donuts: F

  • Continues to have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of the meat they serve.

Jack in the Box: F

  • Continues to have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of the meat they serve.

KFC: F

  • Continues to have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of the meat they serve.

Arby’s: F

  • Continues to have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of the meat they serve.
  • Continues to keep customers in the dark about their meat sourcing policies as this is the second year in a row that they have not responded to requests for information.

Sonic: F

  • Continues to have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of the meat they serve.

Olive Garden: F

  • Continues to have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of the meat they serve.

Starbucks: F

  • Continues to have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of the meat they serve.

Applebee’s: F

  • Continues to have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of the meat they serve.
  • Continues to keep customers in the dark about their meat sourcing policies as this is the second year in a row that they have not responded to requests for information.

Buffalo Wild Wings: F

  • Continues to have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of the meat they serve.
  • Opted to keep customers in the dark about their meat sourcing policies as this is the first year in they have not responded to requests for information. (In 2015, they were not amongst the top 25 U.S. restaurant chains)

Burger King: F

  • Continues to have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of the meat they serve.
  • Continues to keep customers in the dark about their meat sourcing policies as this is the second year in a row that they have not responded to requests for information.

Chili’s: F

  • Continues to have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of the meat they serve.
  • Continue to keep customers in the dark about their meat sourcing policies as this is the second year in a row that they have not responded to requests for information.

Domino’s Pizza: F

  • Continues to have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of the meat they serve.
  • Continues to keep customers in the dark about their meat sourcing policies as this is the second year in a row that they have not responded to requests for information.

IHOP: F

  • Continues to have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of the meat they serve.
  • Continues to keep customers in the dark about their meat sourcing policies as this is the second year in a row that they have not responded to requests for information.

Little Caesars: F

  • Continues to have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of the meat they serve.
  • Continues to keep customers in the dark about their meat sourcing policies as this is the second year in a row that they have not responded to requests for information.

How To Avoid Antibiotics In Food

One of the best ways to avoid antibiotic laden foods in general is to avoid factory farmed meats. Unfortunately, this is the kind of meat that most fast food chains are still sourcing. These meats are used because they’re super cheap, but it means animals are raised with antibiotics and/or artificial hormones. Whether you’re eating out or buying meat at the grocery store, opt for organic whenever possible to avoid dangerous factory farmed products. It’s also a great idea to talk to a local meat source about how they raise their livestock. Ask about the farmer’s treatment plan for sick animals. You can also always opt for wild caught fish rather than farmed fish. But Just like factory farmed meats, farmed fish are also loaded with high concentrations of antibiotics, pesticides and lower levels of healthy nutrients.

In general, choosing antibiotic-free meats is the way to go, but buyer beware because labeling can be tricky. According to the USDA, the terms “no antibiotics added” may be used on labels for meat or poultry products if sufficient documentation is provided by the producer to the agency demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics. (4) This is trusting the meat producers to be honest and with no third party verification, it’s hard to truly know if no antibiotics have ever been used on an animal. (5)

This is why choosing certified USDA organic protein and truly knowing the practices of the farmers raising the animals you’ll be eating can be a more sure bet than buying “antibiotic free.” Also, remember that “natural” really means nothing health-protective these days when it comes to meat and fish.


Final Thoughts on Antibiotics in Fast Food

The next time you’re eating a burger, remember that whatever went into that cow’s body will be in your body next, so choose wisely. There are things you can do to encourage food providers at every level to raise and sell higher quality protein. The next time you’re at your favorite restaurant, ask the owners or managers about their meat sourcing and let them know that as a regular consumer, you value meat that is not only healthier for you, but also healthier for the animals themselves as well as the environment.

Sometimes we really just need to all speak up more with our voices and wallets.  You can choose where you eat, so try to support food purveyors that are supporting a healthy food chain, like those scoring A ratings rather than Fs.

If more restaurants, whether fast food or fine dining, would avoid meat produced with the use of antibiotics, then this would likely lead to more farmers raising livestock that are truly antibiotic free.

Also, better government regulation in the U.S. and other countries would be ideal to ensure that the meat we’re eating is produced without routine antibiotic use. If this happened, the ripple affect would be amazing around the world and superbugs could become less and less of a problem. This Chain Reaction II report will hopefully fuel efforts to stop the path we’re currently on and lead to better health for animals and people across the country and around the world.

Read Next: Is Diet Soda Bad for You? Here’s What It Does to Your Body


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