On days when you’re short on time or just fancy a burger in all its greasy glory, let’s face it: nothing beats the convenience of a fast-food chain.
The good news is that fast-food chains can be included in the healthy eating mix — especially if you’re paying attention to brands that go the extra mile when sourcing beef for their burgers. “If fast food is the only option, some options are better choices than others when it comes to choosing quality meat,” says nutritionist and nutrition coach Jennie Dore.
The biggest problem with fast-food beef is the overuse of antibiotics in food-producing animals — which can lead to antibiotic resistance. This in turn causes a multitude of public health problems. In fact, according to the WHO, according to its website, antibiotic resistance is one of the “greatest threats to global health, food security and development today”.
So who wears quality beef? (Definitely not these 12 fast-food chains.) Dore says that chains that take extra measures, are regularly audited, and are careful about additives are happy to show that extra care on their website and marketing.
We can also rely on the US Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) annual Chain Reaction Scorecard, which examines fast-food chain antibiotic use policies and gives each one an A to F rating.
“Evaluating the companies is critical to showing consumers which chains are doing the right thing to support them and which chains aren’t,” said Matthew Wellington, public health campaigns director for US PIRG and the US PIRG Education Fund.
The 2021 scorecard showed that fast-food companies needed to do more to push their beef suppliers to stop the overuse of antibiotics. “If more companies draw a line in the sand that they will not accept beef raised with routine use of antibiotics, it will help move the industry away from this dangerous practice.”
PIRG’s report also mentions several smaller regional chains with some commendable antibiotic policies. Wellington says they haven’t evaluated these chains, but they’ve included a short section highlighting their progress to show that it’s possible to source farmed beef without overuse of antibiotics.
Here are the fast food chains that pride themselves on using antibiotic-free beef. And don’t miss 8 Fast Food Chains With The Most Toxic Food Packaging.
With the only “A” on the scorecard, Chipotle is top of the class. It was the only company surveyed by the PIRG that both requires its suppliers to track antibiotic use and provides that information to its customers. “Chipotle bans suppliers from using antibiotics on the beef purchased by the restaurant, so the chain’s reported use of antibiotics on beef is nil,” the report reads.
No wonder Panera is close behind with an ‘A-‘. As early as 2004, the chain had chicken bred without antibiotics on its menu for the first time. According to PIRG’s report, Panera’s suppliers are now also tracking the use of antibiotics in beef. However, it also shows that they are not reporting the details to Panera. A goal for the future?
Shake Shack earned an A in PIRG’s 2018 report, while the current report commends the chain for continuing to lead the antibiotic-free beef movement among national burger chains. Shake Shack proudly announces its US animal welfare policy on its website and sources only antibiotic-free beef for its burgers.
BurgerFi has also received top marks for its antibiotic-free beef policy for several years in a row.
“At BurgerFi, we are fully committed to providing our guests with the best dining experience by using the highest quality ingredients,” the chain said in a statement. “We use 100% American Angus beef with no steroids, antibiotics, growth hormones, chemicals or additives in all of our burgers.”
PIRG’s Chain Reaction scorecard also points to B.Good, a Boston-based chain with dozens of locations in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Texas. The chain’s website states that the company maintains an extensive list of ingredients that are banned in its food – including antibiotics, growth hormone and artificial preservatives, colors or flavors.
Burgerville, a chain of restaurants in Oregon and southwest Washington, says their antibiotic-free beef comes from cattle raised in the Pacific Northwest. Pork, turkey, and chicken are also all antibiotic-free.
Californians will find high-quality beef at all Burger Lounge locations, sourcing their antibiotic-free and hormone-free beef from Grass Run Farms.
Virginia’s Elevation Burger also received a shoutout on the Chain Reaction Scorecard. Its more than 40 national and international locations serve organic grass-fed beef and antibiotic-free free-range chicken.