You’ve probably heard by now that Taco Bell is being sued because its beef isn’t really beef. In fact, the “beef” is made of a mixture called “Taco Meat Filling.” Here are the ingredients:
Beef, water, isolated oat product, salt, chili pepper, onion powder, tomato powder, oats (wheat), soy lecithin, sugar, spices, maltodextrin (a polysaccharide that is absorbed as glucose), soybean oil (anti-dusting agent), garlic powder, autolyzed yeast extract, citric acid, caramel color, cocoa powder, silicon dioxide (anti-caking agent), natural flavors, yeast, modified corn starch, natural smoke flavor, salt, sodium phosphate, less than 2% of beef broth, potassium phosphate, and potassium lactate.
It really doesn’t look that out of the ordinary to me (but I don’t eat meat, so what do I know?). According to an Alabama law firm, however, only 36% of the mixture is beef. The firm alleges that the other 64% is additives, flavoring, and coloring.
The firm is presenting a class action for false advertising. The claimants are not asking for any money; they’re just asking for a correction.
Under USDA rules, any product called “beef” must be “flesh of cattle.” “Ground beef” is likewise defined as
Chopped fresh and/or frozen beef with or without seasoning and without the addition of beef fat as such, shall not contain more than 30 percent fat, and shall not contain added water, phosphates, binders, or extenders.
The law firm claims that 64% of the mixture is additives, and the law requires no more than 30% of a meat mixture to be additives. Even food labeled “meat taco filling” should be at least 40% meat under USDA guidelines. So what’s the next level below “meat taco filling”? I don’t think I want to know.
If the law firm’s claim is accurate, they have a great case because calling a beef mixture “beef” may lead consumers to believe that they’re eating one thing when they’re eating something else. If it’s labeled “beef” and advertised as beef, then it must be beef. Consumers have the right to know what they’re eating… even when it comes from Taco Bell.
That said, even if the law firm is correct, there is nothing wrong with the mixture that they’re selling. Sure, it’s processed, but it’s not exactly like you’re heading to Taco Bell thinking you’re going to be eating only the finest. In fact, it’s a lot of oat, wheat and soy, so it’s probably even healthier it would be were the mixture just beef.
Taco Bell has responded with a pretty detailed breakdown of its beef taco filling.
This is the statement that was provided by a Taco Bell representative:
UPDATED STATEMENT REGARDING CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT
“The lawsuit is bogus and filled with completely inaccurate facts. Our beef is 100% USDA inspected, just like the quality beef you would buy in a supermarket and prepare in your home. It then is slow-cooked and simmered with proprietary seasonings and spices to provide Taco Bell’s signature taste and texture. Our seasoned beef recipe contains 88% quality USDA-inspected beef and 12% seasonings, spices, water and other ingredients that provide taste, texture and moisture. The lawyers got their facts wrong. We take this attack on our quality very seriously and plan to take legal action against them for making false statements about our products. There is no basis in fact or reality for this suit and we will vigorously defend the quality of our products from frivolous and misleading claims such as this.”
What is in Taco Bell’s recipe for seasoned beef?
“We’re cooking with a proprietary recipe to give our seasoned beef flavor and texture, just like you would with any recipe you cook at home.
For example, when you make chili, meatloaf or meatballs, you add your own recipe of seasoning and spices to give the beef flavor and texture, otherwise, it would taste just like unseasoned ground beef. We do the same thing with our recipe for seasoned beef.
Our recipe for seasoned beef includes ingredients you’d find in your home or in the supermarket aisle today:
- 88% USDA-inspected quality beef
- 3-5% water for moisture
- 3-5% spices (including salt, chili pepper, onion powder, tomato powder, sugar, garlic powder, cocoa powder and a proprietary blend of Mexican spices and natural flavors).
- 3-5% oats, starch, sugar, yeast, citric acid, and other ingredients that contribute to the quality of our product.
Our seasoned beef contains no “extenders” to add volume, as some might use. For more information about our ingredients go to http://www.tacobell.com.”
President and Chief Concept Officer
Taco Bell Corp.
Frankly, it’s hard to argue with Taco Bell here. We all know that ingredients on packaging is in descending order, from the ingredient that makes up the greatest to least volume. If beef is only 36% of the final product, then we’re expected to believe that 64% of the filling is spices and fillers? If 64% of the meat filling were made up of salt, sugar, and spices, wouldn’t the beef tacos be nearly impossible to eat – or wouldn’t it be just like eating ground spices with little bits of beef here and there? I think this point goes to the Bell.
UPDATE: Taco Bell has written a full-page ad thanking the law firm for suing. Check it out here.