What's in Your Beef? 22 of 25 Fast Food Restaurants Flunk Antibiotics Test


McDonald’s and 21 other fast-food chains received failing grades for not implementing policies to curb antibiotics.

The Consumers Union, Chain Reaction Burger Edition Report gives a failing grade to 22 of 25 fast food restaurants regarding use of antibiotics in beef.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider antibiotic-resistant bacteria among the top threats to global public health, and the CDC estimates that each year, at least 23,000 Americans die from resistant infections. The overuse of antibiotics in livestock production significantly contributes to the spread of antibiotic resistance. The more antibiotics are used, the more bacteria become immune to them. More than 70 percent of the medically important antibiotics sold in the U.S. go to food animals. Many meat producers routinely give the drugs to animals that are not sick either to promote faster growth or to prevent disease caused by factory farm production practices. Despite the threat posed to public health, the U.S. lacks effective laws and policies to prevent the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture.

Although there is some progress in the chicken industry in response to such consumer demand, many fast food restaurants have failed to make meaningful commitments to address antibiotic overuse in their beef supply chains.

Burger Scorecard

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The Consumers Union study shows that only two chains, Shake Shack and BurgerFi, source beef raised without the routine use of antibiotics.

  • 22 of the 25 burger chains surveyed received a failing “F” grade, including McDonald’s, the largest purchaser of beef in the U.S, and In-NOutBurger, a highly popular West Coast chain.
  • In 2017, McDonald’s announced an updated vision for antibiotic stewardship across its meat supply chain but has yet to commit to a timeline for implementation beyond chicken.
  • In-N-Out Burger publicly announced in 2016 that it intended to source beef raised without medically important antibiotics. Despite requests to do so, the company has yet to follow through with a time-bound commitment or provide any updates on its progress.
  • Steak ‘n Shake, Farmer Boys, and Fuddruckers also have no antibiotics policy, and therefore earned an “F;” however, each offers a burger option for consumers that is made using beef raised without antibiotics.
  • Wendy’s currently sources 15 percent of its beef from producers that have cut the use of one medically important antibiotic – tylosin – by 20 percent. This modest step earned Wendy’s a “D-” in this scorecard.

Honorable Mentions

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Of the nation’s top 25 restaurant chains, 18 have adopted policies to limit the routine use of antibiotics in at least one meat category, primarily chicken.

  • Three chains – Panera Bread, Chipotle, and Chick-fil-A – received an “A” grade for their policies to source meat raised without the routine use of antibiotics. Chick-fil-A, the newest recipient of an “A” grade, reports that it is on track to have 100 percent of its chicken meet its “No Antibiotics Ever” standard by the end of 2019.
  • Eleven chains improved their grades compared to last year. Chick-fil-A, KFC, Jack in the Box, and Papa John’s gained points for progress on implementing their commitments. Pizza Hut and Wendy’s gained points for making further commitments to reduce antibiotic use in their meat supply chains (for more info on Wendy’s, see the Burger Chain Scorecard).
  • Domino’s received points for making a new commitment to reduce antibiotic use in its chicken supply chain. Applebee’s and IHOP (both owned by Dine Brands Global) released a new antibiotics policy in August 2018 which states that it is now working with suppliers to end the routine use of medically important antibiotics in its chicken and pork supplies.
  • Dunkin’ Donuts moved up to a “D+,” though not due to improved practices, but rather because its sales of beef dropped, so we did not consider beef in calculating its score.
  • Cracker Barrel earned an improved “D+” grade. Although the antibiotics claim on their website uses the ambiguous term “human grade,” the company confirmed via email that it only sells meat raised without the routine use of medically important antibiotics; antibiotics are only administered in cases of illness or to control an outbreak. However, Cracker Barrel does not require a third-party auditor to verify those claims. Given the inconsistencies between what Cracker Barrel states on its website and what the company told us, as well as the lack of availability of pork and beef that would meet the company’s claims, we are skeptical that the company’s claims are accurate.

OK, but what about the beef and chicken you buy at the grocery store?

Unless it is labeled antibiotic free, it isn't. What's in it? There is no way to know unless you pay for a lab test.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Comments (29)
No. 1-10

While antibiotics in the animal supply chain certainly contributes to downstream microbial resistance and antibiotic-resistant infections, the much larger and expensive problem is the carbohydrate toxicity endorsed by a failed food pyramid that has led to astronomic climb in diabetes and heart disease. If you want to really get at a major health problem, stop feeding the human herd the same way we are feeding livestock—grains.


Ha, I blame Clara Peller. Back in her day they gave you real beef, but in smaller portions. Once the quantity-over-quality mindset kicked into overdrive, chains were happy to give customers all the Frankenbeef they wanted.


American genuflection to the profits of coporate food and agriculture business [anti-biotics; hormones; genetic modifications] are among the reasons other nations are reluctant to buy American exports !!!


If you buy grain-fed beef, which most beef is, it must necessarily be given antibiotics. Grain is not a natural food for cows (whereas it is for chickens), and it disturbs the pH balance in their stomachs, so cows fed with grain are prone to a variety of illnesses, and antibiotics are the only choice. Grain fed beef is smoother and contains more marbled fat, besides being cheaper to produce, so it has taken over the market, for the most part.

If you want to avoid antibiotics, do as I do, and either buy grass fed beef, or bison. It's tougher, and has a different flavor, but I believe you will like the flavor once you get used to it. I do. It is considerably more expensive, however.


This is weird publication by CU. They aren't talking about how much antibiotics are in these outfits' food. They are talking about the outfits' policies. Self-reported.

Back in the day, CU did their own tests and reported the results. That was their value. Their reports were their product. Has that changed?


This is only a problem if the beef isn't cooked properly.

As far as concern over supermarket food: Since you'll be the one cooking it, make damn sure it's cooked before consumption and wash your hands after touching anything not cooked. You'll be fine.


With all those companies earning an F I have to think their suppliers are just following FDA "recommendations."


Based on the comments, there is a great deal of misunderstanding on this issue. Most cattle today are fattened quickly and efficiently in feed lots, where they are fed feed containing grain. Cattle which are fed grain must also be fed antibiotics. Since so many cattle are being fed antibiotics, that means that there is a massive number of bacteria being exposed to antibiotics. When bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, any that survive had some degree of resistance to that antibiotic. With as many bacteria as are being exposed to antibiotics this way, it is inevitable that some will survive, and that new strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria will emerge.

This is not an issue of sanitation. This is not an issue regarding humans being exposed to residual antibiotics. This is an issue where massive numbers of cattle being constantly exposed to antibiotics creates a laboratory for the creation of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Some of those antibiotic resistant bacteria will ultimately also infect humans, and when they do, have the potential of being very difficult to treat.

This is also not an issue that can be resolved by simply buying a different brand of beef. The only way around buying beef from cattle given antibiotics is to buy grass fed beef, which is 2-3 times more expensive, and which some believe does not taste as good. That is exactly why all the restaurants have a grade "F", and will continue to get graded "F".


Free Market. But we have a problem with public goods (antibiotic effectiveness) and externalities (misuse of antibiotics is something for the future or isn't paid by the misuser).

Who cares if we lose antibiotics in 10 years and you die of an extreme resistant infection from a scratch in your yard if the rabble who only have barista jobs can afford to eat beef now? Just like we want cheaper stuff from China or Mexico (and where does some of that food come from? - they fought country of origin labeling).

As Carl_R points out, most beef is either grain fed or grain finished, and cows get abcesses when they eat grain. Also cattle fatten up faster with antibiotics even when grass fed.

Just like exporting jobs to get cheaper stuff, the price isn't always the same as the cost. Custom and law usually insure the costs are fully priced in, but with financial engineering and the push for profits over all means we strip-mine everything then declare bankruptcy when it comes time for the cleanup.

Also consider the national debt and the Fed. Who feels the pain of their evil which is predictable? It is in everyone's interest in general but no one's in particular.

You can go vegan or just grass fed, and pay more, but it won't dent the cheap antibiotic beef and the effects because everyone else will continue. So, regulation? No, then we wouldn't have a free market.

An even more serious problem is with STDs - apparently 1 in 3 Americans have one and they are becoming antibiotic resistant. We will probably wait until syphillis is again incurable to do anything since sex is now a right. But healthcare costs?


So In-N-Out has their own slaughterhouses but still they give their customers beef with antibiotics in it...

Major FAIL.

Also 5 guys failed too and Hardee's failed too.

Global Economics