Some burgers that you’ve eaten might not be what you think they are.
Americans eat nearly 50 billion hamburgers a year, but a recent report by a food research company has some burger lovers cringing.
In both meat and vegetarian patties, Clear Labs found some additional ingredients that may turn the stomachs of the hardiest eaters, according to “The Hamburger Report,” a molecular study of a beloved American food.
Researchers also pointed out the conspicuous absence of other ingredients — like beans missing from a vegetarian black bean burger.
A new report reveals that more than one in ten burger brands across the US contains pathogens, unexpected ingredients, and other contaminants — including rat DNA.
Food analytics platform Clear Labs identified problems with ingredient substitutions, hygiene, and contamination in 13.6% of the 258 burger products the company analyzed on a molecular level, in a report released on Tuesday. The company analyzed ground meat, frozen patties, fast-food burger products, and veggie burger products.
Some of the most jarring numbers: 4.3% of samples contained traces of pathogenic DNA, rat DNA was found in three products, and human DNA was discovered in one frozen vegetarian burger.
That’s right — when eating a burger, you may be consuming human or rat DNA.
“This report provides new insights into the burger product industry to give suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers a representative overview of the supply chain at large and provides insights based on an objective molecular analysis into how we can strengthen the good and improve the bad,” the company wrote on its website.
Here are more of the findings:
- 6% of meat burgers were identified as problematic with substitution, hygienic issues, and pathogenic contamination
- 1 sample tested positive for human DNA
- 3 samples tested positive for rat DNA
- 46% of samples contained more calories than reported on labels or in menus
- 49% of samples contained more carbohydrates than reported
- 6% of vegetarian burgers were identified as problematic with substitution, hygienic issues, and pathogenic contamination
- In one black bean burger, there were no black beans
- In 2 cases, meat was found in vegetarian products
The lab results come from 258 samples of ground meat, frozen patties, fast-food burger products and veggie burger products from 79 brands and 22 retailers.
The bigger issue, according to Doyle, is substitution — a belief backed by Clear Labs data.
More than 6% of samples’ analysis revealed substitutions, with products such beef, chicken, turkey, and pork in burgers that were not supposed to contain these ingredients.
The problem was even more pronounced in veggie burgers, with more than 15% of vegetarian products missing at least one ingredient. For example, one “black bean burger” tested didn’t contain any black beans.
More concerning, substitutions go hand-in-hand with inaccurate nutritional information. Almost half of all samples contained more calories than reported on labels or in menus.
So even while — somewhat surprisingly — the fast-food industry earned top marks when it came to hygiene, 38 of the 47 fast-food burgers analyzed had more calories than reported on fast-food menus. Twelve of these had caloric values that were more than 100 calories greater than stated on the menu.
Clear Labs has refrained from naming the fast-food chains or burger brands tested, with a spokesperson telling Business Insider that the company’s goal is to work with the food industry instead of calling out specific retailers or brands.
“Surviving in today’s burger market requires building trust with consumers, who are increasingly questioning the food industry’s processing and manufacturing practices, and differentiating on quality,” Clear Labs writes in the report.
While it is natural to freak out about the possibility of rat DNA in your burger, trace elements of rodents in your food are just a gross fact of life.
What might be worth worrying about, though, is that burger makers could be tweaking recipes in ways that are not represented in the provide nutritional information. That, not the rat DNA, might be the most unnerving aspect of the modern burger industry.
Clear Labs says it wants to “help the food industry future-proof their supply chains, reduce the risk of costly recalls, and generally improve qualities of safety and quality by calling out all observable trends and insights at the molecular level, regardless of whether or not they are acceptable according to FDA guidelines.”