Updated: See end of post.
There’s some good news and bad news I need to share with you about the beloved In-N-Out burger chain. I started investigating the food at In-N-Out Burger for so many reasons. There is a ton of hype surrounding these restaurants. The burgers are quick and simple. People actually drive dozens of miles out of their way to eat there. I’m sure you’ve seen all the celebrities that tweet about this place and show pictures of them eating it, and for some reason it has this untouchable cloak around it that makes it seem healthier than McDonald’s and other mainstream fast food restaurants.
Even Eric Schlosser, who is one of the most influential food investigators of our time that helped to change the way that I and so many others view food when he wrote Fast Food Nation, once said about In-N-Out
: “It isn’t health food, but it’s food with integrity. It’s the real deal”
But is it really???
Up until this point, In-N-Out Burger has refused to tell us exactly what is in their food, which should make everyone skeptical…
They have such a basic menu, but they don’t list ingredients online and blatantly refuse to tell you the full list of ingredients when you ask. I’ve gotten lots of emails from readers that are frustrated about this too and asked me to reach out to them. Just like when I first investigated Chipotle back in 2012
, In-N-Out describes their food as made fresh with quality ingredients: “We don’t freeze. We don’t pre-package. We don’t over-process. We just make things the old-fashioned way”.
Well, if that’s true – why hide the ingredient list?
I realize that In-N-Out Burger has been in business for a very long time, but it’s not the 1950’s anymore. People have woken up to the alarming amount of food additives that are used in most fast food places, and who’s to say that In-N-Out is any different? It’s time for them to publish their ingredients online like almost every other fast food restaurant does (and Chipotle and Starbucks do now!) This is an important step towards transparency that more and more customers now want and expect.
My team and I spent months contacting In-N-Out’s Customer Service and spoke directly with some restaurant locations trying to nail down all of their ingredients. We were successful in obtaining some ingredients used by In-N-Out, but because they are unwilling to share the complete list they would only confirm or deny if specific ingredients are used – one, by one, by one (which is so ridiculous!)
Eventually last December, I sent a letter to the owner and President of In-N-Out, Ms. Lynsi Snyder, asking to chat with her to discuss my concerns. She declined without further comment. I moved forward by replying to her assistant and asking directly for a list of ingredients and also for their policy on the use of antibiotics in the production of their meat. A few weeks later on January 15, 2016, I received an email from Keith Brazeau, Vice President of Quality, with an exciting announcement!
He wrote: “we are already working toward publishing our ingredients. Our goal is to ensure this information is readily available to any customer looking for it; and that it will be useful, clear, and of course, accurate.“
I’m thrilled that our behind-the-scenes pressure made In-N-Out Burger commit to publishing “useful” “clear” and “accurate” ingredient lists online, but when will they do it?
The size of their regular menu is super limited, so it really should only take an hour (or less!) for someone to add a PDF of the ingredient list to their website. This is not a difficult task and I see no reason why they cannot implement it immediately, do you? They also didn’t send me the list of ingredients, which they could have easily and quickly done. I followed up with them twice now asking for a timeline and haven’t heard back from them yet (but will update this post when they do).
How healthy do you think In-N-Out’s ingredients are going to be? Here’s what we already know…
(We found the information above by asking Customer Service about each ingredient individually. I find it appalling that the corporate headquarters didn’t send this information to me after direct communication.)
1. They admit that they use Cottonseed Oil
to fry their fries. Cottonseed oil does not belong in our food supply and should be strictly avoided. This oil is made from a byproduct of the industrial waste from the cotton farming industry, which isn’t a food crop. Despite being one of the most prevalent GMO crops (designed to produce an insecticide), cotton crops still require an intense application of agricultural chemicals and that’s why cotton has been called the “World’s Dirtiest Crop”. Residues from these pesticides can remain in cottonseed oil according to data collected by the FAO/WHO Joint Meetings on Pesticides Residues in Food. If that isn’t bad enough, t
o extract the oil the cottonseeds are subjected to intensive chemical refining
with toxic hexane, bleach, and deodorizers
2. They get their meat from one of the largest factory farms
. If you drive on I-5 in central California – you’ve probably smelled it. I posted a video of what it looks like on Instagram – check it out here.
Harris Ranch is one the largest concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) on the west coast – critics call it “cowschwitz
” because thousands of cows can be seen crowded and walking in their own excrement.
5. Their burger spread is artificially colored with Yellow #5
. This is the same dye I petitioned Kraft to remove from their mac & cheese (which they have done
) because it’s derived from petroleum
and linked to childhood behavioral problems
that require a food warning label in Europe. If you add pickles to your burger, those are colored with yellow #5 as well.
6. We were able to get some of the bun ingredients from their supplier and released them in this post about fast food buns.
They contain: Enriched Flour, Water, Sugar (from sugar beets), Yeast, Fully Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Salt, Calcium Propionate
… (and may contain more ingredients that haven’t been disclosed yet).
“Years ago we used to eat at In-N-Out because they advertise “no preservatives” etc. But our family noticed that we didn’t feel good whenever we ate there, so we now just pack a cooler for road trips or try and find a Chipotle. A couple of months ago we stopped for gas on a road trip and went into an In-N-Out that was next door. I asked the manager what the ingredients were in the milk shake – the menu says “made with real ice cream”. He said he didn’t know, but had a company hotline he could call to ask about a specific ingredient. I chose one that I thought would tell me the quality of their ingredients – Vanillin. Sure enough, he came back to the counter and said their milkshakes contain Vanillin. The company keeps their ingredient list completely private and won’t share with consumers. I know many, many families who think that In-N-Out represents a healthier fast food option. Would you consider doing an investigation or requesting that they share their ingredients with the public?”
There is no time like the present for In-N-Out to post their ingredients, as we all deserve to know what we are eating and In-N-Out shouldn’t hide their ingredient lists from their customers.
But – the broader and more important commitment here is for In-N-Out to stop using meat from animals that are routinely fed antibiotics and growth hormones on factory farms.
The routine use of antibiotics is a major issue that I’ve written several times about (here, here, here, here). I am continuing to work with several consumer advocacy groups (CALPIRG Education Fund, Friends of the Earth, Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union) to eliminate this practice.
In January, we sent a letter to Lynsi Snyder of In-N-Out Burger outlining the public health threat we are facing in regards to the misuse of antibiotics on farms and what In-N-Out can do address it. Specifically, we asked Ms. Snyder to develop an antibiotic use policy that prohibits their meat suppliers from routinely using antibiotics in the raising of their meat.
We received a response to our letter on February 16, 2016 from Mr. Brazeau at In-N-Out that stated, “we support Food and Drug Administration guidance on the use of antibiotics in livestock which were designed to protect both animal and human health.”
The FDA’s new guidelines on antibiotic use do not go far enough. Here’s why:
The FDA’s policy is full of gaps and still allows for the routine use of antibiotics on animals that are not sick, and is only phasing out the routine use of antibiotics for growth promotion. The FDA will continue to allow farms to routinely use antibiotics to prevent diseases that the animals are at risk for when they are raised in crowded factory farms. As you can see, anyone who is following the FDA’s guidelines will be able to continue regularly administering antibiotics to their livestock and does little to curb its use.
In-N-Out is a highly regarded chain that many people believe serves better food than other fast food competitors. It’s time to live up to their reputation and stop lagging behind companies like Elevation Burger and Shake Shack who have responsibly decided not to serve meat raised with routine antibiotics or growth hormones. Switching to sustainable grass-fed beef is one way In-N-Out Burger could meet this requirement and help encourage best management practices for animals.
Collectively, we made a huge impact last year when we petitioned Subway to stop serving meat raised on routine antibiotics and were successful. Now, we can do this again and we need your help!
Contact In-N-Out Burger today and ask them to:
Phase out the routine use of antibiotics and growth hormones across all of their meat supply chains
Require suppliers to improve management practices and conditions for animals in their facilities, reducing the need for routine use of these drugs.
Provide a more healthful and sustainable grass-fed option on the menu.
Make Your Voice Heard!
If you know someone who eats at In-N-Out, please share this post with them. We are creating a safer food system together and I love each and every one of you for getting involved!
Update2/24/2017: Major press release announced on February 24th, 2016 – Over 50 groups are calling on In-N-Out Burger to: (1) Phase out the routine use of antibiotics across all of their meat supply chains. (2) Require suppliers to stop using beta-agonists and growth hormones and improve management practices and conditions for animals in their facilities, reducing the need for routine use of these drugs. (3) Provide a more healthful and sustainable grass-fed option on the menu. —- Make your voice heard!—– Keep sending them messages, tweets and calls to 1-800-786-1000. Share this news with your friends and family!
Update 2/22/2017: A member of the Food Babe Army notified me that In–N–Out Burger quietly switched to Non-GMO expeller pressed sunflower oil to fry their fries in some locations. My team contacted In–N–Out Burger and they confirmed this information, but that it is not their intention to switch in all locations. Some locations still serve cottonseed oil.
Posts may contain affiliate, sponsorship and/or partnership links for products Food Babe has approved and researched herself. If you purchase a product through an affiliate, sponsorship or partnership link, your cost will be the same (or at a discount if a special code is offered) and Food Babe will benefit from the purchase. Your support is crucial because it helps fund this blog and helps us continue to spread the word. Thank you.