Who could resist a mouthwatering McDonald’s hamburger smothered in special sauce, a huge crispy portion of Five Guys Cajun-style French Fries, or a nice hot Starbucks White Hot Chocolate? We’re guessing that after you read this list of 42 Shocking Facts about Fast Food, you’ll be able to resist all of those things. False advertising and unappetizing ingredients, plus all kinds of nutritional information you won’t even believe—bon appetit!
Fast Food Facts
42. Bad Habits
An estimated 90% of American children between the ages of three and nine visit a McDonald’s every month. This shocking statistic comes from Fast Food Nation: the Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser.
41. Super Sized
In the 2004 documentary Super Size Me, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock used himself as a guinea pig to see how unhealthy an all-fast-food diet could be. Spurlock dined at McDonald’s for three meals a day, consuming an average of 5,000 calories daily and eating every menu item at least once. He gained 24 pounds, his cholesterol increased, and he experienced increased fat in his liver, mood swings, and sexual dysfunction. After filming, it took him 14 months to lose the weight on a vegan diet.
40. Sickly Sweet
Can’t get enough of that sweet fizzy soda served at fast-food restaurants? Find yourself still thirsty after guzzling a jumbo 32-ounce drink? That’s not an accident. The syrups used in fountain sodas contain high-fructose corn syrup as a cheap substitute for sugar. Extremely high levels of the syrup can taste addicting—and also tear away at the enamel on your teeth, stretch out your stomach lining, and attack your vital organs. Spikes in blood sugar after consuming HFCS can also cause dehydration or extreme thirst, making you want to drink even more of the stuff! You’d be better off eating pure sugar right from the sugar bowl!
39. Always Fresh?
McDonald’s hamburgers don’t rot. At least, not in any recognizable time. A man made headlines in 2013 after posting a photo of a burger he’d saved for 14 years at room temperature, kept in the pocket of an old coat. He’d intended to save the burger for two weeks but forgot about it. The chemical preservatives combined with the low water content of the burgers cause them to dry out long before they begin to rot.
38. Strange Tradition
Japan’s traditional cuisine is lauded as some of the healthiest food in the world. The diet includes lots of fresh fish, rice, seaweed, pickled and fermented vegetables and very little consumption of red meats, processed foods or oils. It’s credited with the good health and longevity of people in Japan. However, Japan has a rather unhealthy Christmas tradition. Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan, but KFC has somehow been cemented as a holiday tradition. Some customers will place their Christmas orders for KFC chicken up to two months in advance.
37. Boot, Ball, Bone, Bell
McDonald’s crispy and delicious (yet highly processed) Chicken McNuggets are pressed into four shapes: the bell, boot, ball, and bone (or bow-tie). The uniform shapes allow for quick and consistent cooking, and the lack of variation means that any McNugget you eat will be familiar, and will be able to be comfortably dunked into a barbecue sauce cup.
36. Fish On Fridays
McDonald’s originally conceived of their Filet-O-Fish sandwich to appeal to Catholics, who traditionally abstain from eating any meat except fish on Fridays, as well as the 40-day period of Lent. In the 1960s, when the practice was common amongst Catholics, McDonald’s restaurants in predominantly Catholic markets, such as Cincinnati and Boston, saw a significant decrease in sales of their menu, which was primarily burgers. Thus, the FIlet-O-Fish debuted as a way to bring in Catholics and keep sales up each day of the week.
35. Sugar Rush
In the original recipe, McDonald’s Sweet Tea contained 69 grams of sugar per 32-ounce cup. That’s more than two and a half Snickers bars! They’ve since cut the amount of sugar down to 38 grams per 32 ounces—still way too much to be drinking regularly!
34. Near Miss
In the 1960s, McDonald’s was toying with the idea of a meatless sandwich called the Hula Burger. The Hula burger consisted of a slice of grilled pineapple with cheese on a cold bun. We’re glad that idea didn’t take off…
33. Side Hustle
After graduating from culinary school, Steve Ells dreamed of opening his own fine dining establishment. He started Chipotle in 1993 to raise the funds for his restaurant. His part-time gig took off and became his full-time job, leading to an eventual $826 million in annual revenue and over 37,000 employees.
32. Beach Burger
Processed foods often contain a litany of ingredients that are difficult to understand or even pronounce, and some of these words are just fancy terms for familiar things. Take “silicon dioxide” for example. If you read these words on a list of ingredients, you may be left scratching your head, but we’re guessing you’d recognize this ingredient when called by its usual name: sand. Silicon dioxide is often found in spicier foods, like chili or buffalo wings.
31. Secret Ingredient
If you’re trying to cut calories or avoid gluten while dining out at IHOP, you’d be surprised to hear you should stay away from their omelets. IHOP’s secret for tasty, fluffy omelets is surprising: they add a small amount of pancake batter to their eggs. IHOP is, after all, pancake house, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
30. They Started It All
The first fast-food restaurant in America was White Castle, known for it’s small, square hamburgers called “sliders.” The chain debuted in 1929, selling their sliders for only 5 cents each. The price went up to 10 cents a burger in 1945 (and, of course, has gone up since) but by then diners were hooked. TIME Magazine named the White Castle slider as “the most influential burger of all time”.
29. A Reason for Everything
White Castle’s signature slider burgers have a distinct size and shape. The burgers are square—meaning that they can be made of ground meat rolled or pressed into a sheet and sliced along straight lines. The burgers also have five holes punched through them, which allows steam to rise through the burgers, cooking them through without requiring them to be flipped. This saves on prep time and, White Castle claims, improves their flavour.
28. I Don’t Like Those Odds
McDonald’s holds an annual “Hiring Day,” where they hire employees en masse to staff their restaurants and their corporate offices. After the 2008 recession, when unemployment was at an all-time high, applications rose dramatically. At their “Hiring Day” in 2011, only 6.2% of applicants were hired by the chain. Harvard University accepts around 7% of applicants, making your chances of getting a job at McDonald’s worse than your chances of getting into Harvard!
27. Mobile Restaurant
In 2010, during construction of the new World Trade Center in New York City, Subway engineered a mobile sandwich shop in a shipping container. The “restaurant” could be raised or lowered up the scaffolding of the building so that workers needn’t waste their 30-minute lunch breaks descending and ascending stairs or elevators to grab lunch.
26.When Life Gives You Avocados, Make Guacamole!
Who doesn’t love the delicious taste of guacamole or the sweet tunes of songwriter Jason Mraz? Well, they may come from the same place! Chipotle buys some of its avocados from Mraz, who has a property with hundreds of avocado trees.
25. Hard Choices
Many coffee connoisseurs might think that grabbing a muffin with their morning cappuccino is a healthier choice than a decadent chocolate cupcake, but they’d be wrong. Even muffins that boast whole-wheat flour, sunflower seeds, and fresh berries still contain a ton of oil and sugar, and the portions are often much larger. U.S. News reported that an average muffin from a leading café-bakery may be 5.5 ounces with 511 calories, the average cupcake is only 3 ounces and 356 calories.
There are worse things than adding a scone to your morning coffee, but some things that aren’t worse would surprise you. Starbucks’ Cinnamon Chip Scone contains 480 calories — that’s 70 calories more than the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder sandwich. If you added that scone beside a Starbucks White Hot Chocolate, which itself has 640 calories, you’d have eaten half your daily recommended calories before noon. At least the Quarter Pounder has protein and a tiny bit of lettuce!
23. Color Me Bad
In addition to all the added salt, fat, and preservatives, the added dyes and colors present in fast food can really mess with our bodies. Brightly-colored dyes are found in candy and desserts—the pink in your strawberry ice cream or the M&Ms on your sundae—but they’re also added to foods you wouldn’t expect. Meat or fries can be colored to look more “natural” or nutritious—especially to match the mouthwatering pictures in ads or on menus. Food dyes have been proven to alter the behavior of children, making them hyperactive, irritable, bad-tempered, or exhibit symptoms of ADD.
22. Unlucky Guess
Many fast-food restaurants post calorie information about each food item on their menus (at least they do in places they are legally required to). That information really is helpful—it’s been proven to inform diners to make healthier choices, and without that info handy, it can be hard to know what you’re eating. Studies suggest that diners at fast-food restaurants routinely underestimate the calorie content of their food by 175-250 calories. That can really add up!
21. Do the Math
Fast food is convenient because it’s fast. Grabbing a hamburger and fries or a burrito can save us time that we can spend commuting, working, or relaxing by watching some TV. But chances are that we’re not spending that time exercising. And since people tend to underestimate how many calories they’re eating and overestimate how many calories are burned through exercise, the math can really throw you off. For example, a baked potato and bowl of chili from Wendy’s will take you two solid hours of weightlifting to burn of. An 840-calorie kids’ meal from McDonald’s (cheeseburger, small fries, chocolate milk) would take over 4 solid hours of frisbee-playing to burn off.
20. Taking Over the World, One Cup at a Time
Some of the fastest-growing fast-food chains don’t serve burgers and fries at all—they serve coffee and pastries. As of 2007, Starbucks Coffee was opening one or two new stores worldwide every day.
At some fast food restaurants, even ordering a salad won’t save you from unhealthy ingredients. A standard “crispy chicken Caesar salad” with sliced fried chicken and Caesar dressing can easily clock in at 1,200 calories—that’s two Big Macs! The same with “buffalo chicken salads” or “southwest salads,” both of which can have creamy dressings or added crunchy tortilla chips. These salads can also have up to 14 grams of saturated fat, and 3,500 mg of sodium.
18. Subliminal Manipulation
Have you ever wondered why fast food logos are often red and yellow? Think McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut and Burger King. Well, food scientists and psychologists have wondered about this too. Bright reds and yellow can subconsciously stimulate hunger and make us eat faster. That adds up to more calories for us, and more money for the fast food chains.
17. One Guy
One in ten Five Guys burger franchises is owned by basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal! That’s 155 locations. O’Neal is a terrific businessman and has fingers in all sorts of business pies… and burgers! He also owns 17% of Auntie Annie’s pretzel stands in America.
16. Unhealthiest Fries
A man the size of Shaquille O’Neal, of course, needs to eat a different diet, as he consumes more calories by virtue of being bigger and more active than the average man. So maybe for Shaq, eating a large sized order of Five Guys fries is nothing at all. Unfortunately for those of us who aren’t 7’1” tall athletes, a large order of Five Guys Cajun-spiced fries could do some serious damage to our bodies and our waistlines. Time Magazine ranked the dish at #3 on its list of “Top 10 Worst Fast Foods” in 2009. A large size of Five Guys Fries clocks in at 1,464 calories (more than half the recommend 2,500 calories daily for most adults) and a staggering 71 grams of fat.
15. Health Warrior
Why would McDonald’s change their fry recipe if it was already delicious? You can thank Phil Sokoloff. In 1996, Sokoloff, an Omaha businessman, had a heart attack at the age of 43 and had his eyes opened to the dangers of high cholesterol. He decided to open everyone else’s eyes as well, and spent an estimated $10 million of his own money on a public education and advertising campaign designed to get fast food restaurants to lower the fat in their food. He took on McDonald’s, Nabisco, Wendy’s, the dairy industry, the egg industry—just about everyone he could. He even debated with a McDonald’s executive on live television about the dangers of fatty foods. In the end, Sokoloff was successful: most major fast-food chains agreed to switch the oil in their deep fryers from beef tallow to vegetable-based fat, which isn’t as bad for you.
14. Longest Delivery
Pizza Hut broke records in 2001 when they became the first pizza delivery joint to deliver a pizza to outer space. Yuri Usachov, a Russian cosmonaut, enjoyed a pizza on the International Space Station sent to him by the American pizza chain. The pizza piggybacked on a Russian resupply rocket, and likely took longer than the usual 30 minutes. However, Usachov not only got his pizza for free, but Pizza Hut paid the Russian Space Agency almost $1 million for the promotional stunt!
13. Only in Texas
Dairy Queen is a national chain, but franchises in Texas have a little more to offer. The DQ restaurants statewide offer a “Texas Country Foods” menu in addition to Dairy Queen’s regular fare. The Texas-only menu includes burgers like the “Hungr-Buster,” the “Belt Buster,” the “Dude” chicken-fried steak sandwich, and the “Steak Finger Country Basket.” Frankly none of those sound terribly appealing, or healthy.
12. Fans Love It!
Fast-food chains might have the reputation of being a bit low-class or gauche, but California’s In-N-Out Burger has attracted many celebrity fans—and celebrity chefs as fans! The Southwestern chain has set up burger stands at Golden Globe Awards after parties, and has celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Aziz Ansari, and Reese Witherspoon share selfies taken while eating the burgers. Celebrity chefs Julia Child, Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay have also said they love In-N-Out burger—Ramsay even admitted to eating a double cheeseburger in the restaurant, then getting the same meal at the Drive-Thru on his way out.
11. Morning Joe
You might find yourself getting cranky without your morning cup of coffee, but that cup could, in fact, be even more reason to be cranky. The styrofoam that many cups are made of contains styrene, a known carcinogen. Although styrofoam seems to be generally safe to store cold food and drinks in, the heat from coffee is believed to transfer styrene into the drink, which is then ingested. Maybe bring a thermos next time.
10. Secret Recipe
Fast food chains are notorious for their “secret recipes” (hint: “special sauce” is almost always Thousand Island dressing). McDonald’s restaurants had their own secret recipe for making the most delicious French fries, and it wasn’t vegetarian. They fried their fries in “Formula 47,” a specially-engineered mixture of beef tallow (that is, beef fat), which had a very high melting point and produced crisp, golden, succulent French fries. Unfortunately, the fries were also incredibly high in fat, and couldn’t be consumed by non-beef eaters or vegetarians (including those who abstain from eating cows for religious reasons).
9. When is a Foot Not a Foot?
Subway, the prolific fast-food sandwich chain, also found themselves under fire for false advertising when diners complained that their “footlong” sandwiches were in fact only 11 inches in length. Subway responded that “footlong” was intended as a “descriptive name” and not intended to describe the actual length of their sandwiches.
8. Pink Slime
If you were reading a newspaper in 2012, you probably have the words “pink slime” burned into your memory. ABC ran a series of stories on “lean, finely-textured beef”—also known as “pink slime”—which is used to make all manner of beef products that don’t require contiguous cuts of meat. Any ground beef product (especially, say, fast-food hamburgers) could easily be made with this inexpensive and plentiful “pink slime,” which itself is made of trimmings and by-products from processing larger cuts of meat. While the name sounds creepy, “pink slime” is perfectly healthy (as much as any red meat is). The resulting media fervor created a consumer panic, resulting in 1.9 billion dollars lost by one beef processor. Beef Products Inc. later sued ABC for claiming that “pink slime” was at all deleterious, and the news agency was criticized for stigmatizing the diets of low-income Americans who may not be able to afford higher-priced cuts of meat.
7. Bad Reputation
Taco Bell’s PR team found themselves in hot water when the fast-food chain was sued for false advertising by an Alabama law firm claiming that Taco Bell’s “ground beef” was less than 35% meat. The firm claimed that testing showed the ground mixture was mostly fillers and binders, and as it was only slightly more than a third real beef, it should not be sold under the name “seasoned beef.” The suit was eventually withdrawn, but the damage to Taco Bell’s reputation had already been done.
6. Setting an Example
Dave Thomas founder of Wendy’s restaurants, went back to school to earn his GED at the age of 61. He didn’t want people to see his success and feel inspired to drop out of high school.
A 2010 study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology found that 48% of fast-food restaurant soda fountains contained coliform bacteria commonly found in human feces. An additional 11% of soda fountains tested positive for E. coli. Other bacteria found included Staphylococcus and Candida, and certain strains that were found were antibiotic-resistant. Small amounts of these pathogens won’t harm those who drink from these fountains, but it is possible they could be harmful. Either way, it’s pretty gross!
4. A Whole Barnyard
How many cows does it take to make a single hamburger? Depending on where you get your burger from, perhaps up to 100! Huffington Post reported that meat from 100-400 different individual cows can end up in a hamburger. What’s more, is that a single infected cow can contaminate up to 10 tons of beef! That definitely leaves a bad taste in my mouth…
3. Wasted Decoration
Nowadays, you can find kale everywhere. The leafy green vegetable is commonly found in salads, smoothies, in sandwiches, and even Beyoncé wore a sweatshirt that simply read “KALE” in capital letters. Before 2013—that is, before the kale craze—the largest purchaser of kale was Pizza Hut. They didn’t put the vegetable on pizzas or in salads, and in fact it never made it into any of their food. Pizza Hut used the kale as decoration for their salad bars, and presumably threw it out when it ceased to look good.
2. Clever Joke
An eagle-eyed fan discovered the secret to KFC’s official Twitter account, which only follows 11 people, despite a following of 1.26 million! The accounts followed are the 5 Spice Girls… and 6 seemingly random people named Herb. Get it? 11 Herbs & Spices?
1. Never Closed
When Denny’s restaurants, previously open 24 hours a day/365 days a year, decided to begin closing on Christmas, many restaurant managers at their franchises found the restaurants didn’t even have locks on the doors! Or they had locks whose keys had long since been lost. Some restaurants had only ever been closed during remodeling, so locks were never necessary. Locksmiths had to be deployed to install the locks on the restaurant’s doors.