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Dissecting In-N-Out Burger (Gross or Healthy? You decide!)

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???

FB_DissectingInNoutBurger640x480_2
 

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!
 
In-N-Out Commits To Publishing Ingredients
 
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… 

FB_InNoutBurgerFries_4

(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, to 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.
 
3. The cows are raised with GMO feed. Study after study is revealing that meat raised organically and grass-fed is healthier for us because it is higher in healthy fatty acids, and is not raised with antibiotics or growth hormones linked to cancer
 
4.  The spread on their burgers and their shakes both contain High Fructose Corn Syrup. One study found that this sweetener can be contaminated with toxic mercury. HFCS has been shown to contribute to type II diabetes, especially in children
 
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). 
 
7.  They use the Artificial Flavor Vanillin, which is typically made from petrochemicals and paper industry waste, in their shakes. An awesome reader sent me this email recently:
 
“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?
– Jennifer

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!

Get Beef Raised On Routine Antibiotics Out

Contact In-N-Out Burger today and ask them to:

  1. Phase out the routine use of antibiotics and growth hormones across all of their meat supply chains

  2. Require suppliers to 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!

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! 

Xo,
 
Vani 
 
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 InNOut Burger quietly switched to Non-GMO expeller pressed sunflower oil to fry their fries in some locations. My team contacted InNOut Burger and they confirmed this information, but that it is not their intention to switch in all locations. Some locations still serve cottonseed oil.
 
 
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166 responses to “Dissecting In-N-Out Burger (Gross or Healthy? You decide!)

  1. Funny somebody said don’t blame my gallstones on in and out I’m not blaming my gallstones on in and out I got gallstones from eating too much junk food one too many In N Out trips because its my favorite fast food place that’s what the doctors have told me for not eating healthy food not eating home cooked meals and then Nicole said in and out is a much better choice than McDonalds actually there’s more healthier foods to eat at McDonalds then there is at in and out nothing at In N Out it healthy to digest eat in and out for 25 plus years more than anything else in the world like I did and get gallstones to the jackass who said don’t blame your gall stones on in and out keep eating the junk food and then let this happen to you and Nicole know you’re stupid and out is more healthy choice than McDonalds both are unhealthy choices and in and out is less healthy please if you are a moron like Nicole don’t reproduce

      1. I totally quit reading that person comment because of the lack of punctuation then lol’d when I read your reply.

  2. Are you kidding me with this article? You choose the most healthy version of “fast” food and try to tear it down. out of all the places to rip on come on.

    In-N-Out makes me feel great! If you don’t like it, support someone else with your $ and let the market decide.

    1. They stated that they were already working on it – that wasn’t pressure that caused this. Obviously it’s not the “best” but without the Amy’s fast food drive thrus, I’d still prefer my kids eat here for a treat once in a while.

    2. That’s the point. You think it’s a healthier option but how can you no without seeing the ingredients? Hydrogenated oils (cancer causing trans fats) and cottonseed oil are not healthy. Those ingredients put them in the same ball park as all the rest.

    3. You have bought into the lies, believing In-N-Out is the “most healthy version.” You might believe that, but it doesn’t make it true. Ahead of In-N-Out in a “healthy burger (if there is even such a thing)” would be Culver’s (it’s in the Midwest for those who don’t like the so-called “fly-over” states).

    4. Mark! What is healthy about In-N-Out? Did you skip over the list of grievances? Vani is doing this county — hell, the world — a service by pushing fast food establishments to publish their ingredients list! Informed choice. Then we can vote with our wallets. You do you, though.

  3. Hi Vani,
    I have an honest question about animal antibiotic/antiviral usage, and I promise I’m not trying to be rude or troll or anything. I know you are against the large amounts of antibiotic/antiviral usage, but in your opinion, what would you recommend the livestock industry do to protect its herds from the various viral and bacterial diseases? I am taking an agricultural class now, and after listening to many scientists in this field, they are so worried for farmers because these treatments are all that they have. And they know it is not enough. There is very little funding in this field. And it only takes one sick animal to destroy a farm. If a herd becomes sick with highly infectious Foot and Mouth Disease for example, they slaughter all the animals to stop the spread of the disease (see 2001 United Kingdom FMD outbreak) . Right now, they know of no other way- and this is coming from global animal disease experts. How would you approach this situation of preventing/treating a deadly/painful animal disease outbreak? I’d really appreciate your viewpoint on this issue because I too worry about resistant superbugs!

    1. I sort of agree with you Tanya, I say “sort of” because if factory farms stopped jamming thousands of animals together in very unhealthy pens animal health would not be so much of a problem. GMOs are not such a bad thing either. We have a lot of mouths to feed on this planet and that is what people like Vani never want to address.

      1. GMO’s are not needed for anything. 90 percent of GMO crops are fed to animals or made into ethanol. There are no human safety studies the only human study proved the GMO get past the stomach intact and can change gut bacteria. Every GMO has unintended consequences and due to constantly changing genetics their future is unknown from generation to generation. Look up the klebsiella planticola debacle to gage how dangerous GMO can be. Destroying all terrestrial plants could be possible. The most dangerous technology in the history of the world.

      2. Pissedman, GMO’s are most certainly required. Do you think that because they “are fed to animals” that this isn’t immediately followed by “which are then eaten by humans”. I am not sure about that 90% figure, anyway, unless you’re talking specific nations. Still, no doubt GMO’s CAN be harmful, just like certain fertilizers CAN be harmful. Point is, we are failing at feeding this planets current population, and GMO’s are a safe way to do this, while keeping the future of the planet itself in mind. Gene splice two variety of corn together, and you still have perfectly safe corn (not to mention, pretty damn natural). Gene splice corn and bacteria, and now you’re edging closer to warranted concern.

    2. dont the animals in the farm get “sick” due to the deplorable conditions in which they live full of feces and waste, no temperature regulation, no isolation of sick and or injured animals and the fact that the animals do not develop any immunity being fed corn and soy all day long?

    3. Farmers need to change the way they farm (gross, crowded monocultures) vs biodynamic farms that mimic nature. There are countless examples of profitable farms that work this way and their animals do not need antibiotics.

  4. I’m a Registered Dietitian. I have no problem eating at In-N-Out from time to time. I also have credentials: a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition Science plus thousands of hours of training and experience. This blog author has none of those. Anyone can publish whatever they want on the Internet. Of course anyone can decide whatever they want for themselves and their life. I just choose to use evidenced-based science, and not conjecture, to live mine. Looking forward to the next time I have In-N-Out. Certainly not often (a few times a year)…. But I enjoy it when I do!!

    1. The medical profession avoided hand washing for 40 years killing millions in the process. Your technology is behind by 50 years so at least half of what you know is wrong. And you continue killing people today as a consequence. If you cannot get the concept of reducing your bio burden then you should go and ask for your university money back. Plus if you don’t know about GMO’s then this alone confirms your ignorance. And for Monsanto ignorance is bliss. This is why most people avoid the medical industry.

      1. Ummm… Who said I don’t know anything about GMOs? That is an assumption on your part. Just because I chose not to discuss them in my response does not imply ignorance on my part. My point simply is that I, personally, enjoy In N Out from time to time and make that choice for my lifestyle. You can choose whatever you want for yours; I am not forcing my beliefs on you the way you are forcing your insults on me. I am certainly glad you are not my patient – I wouldn’t want to treat you based on your attitude alone.

    2. Common sense over-rules science every time. I raised five children without hormones or chemicals in their foods. They were the healthiest in their class; the girls started their cycles just shy of 17, all three of them. My boys went through puberty long after their friends and did a final growth spurt at 17-18.
      I was an animal science major in college which drove me to search for a healthier solution to my eating habits and poor health.

      1. Common sense over-rules science every time? That’s fine if that is what you believed for your life, and your family. In my life, and my family, I choose to use evidence-based science to live mine, and I happen to have very healthy children.

      2. “over-rules science”? While I am a devotee to the effective use of common sense, you have defied the exact principles you are claiming. In general, I expect you will find science IS common sense, just more sense than common.

    3. Dear Jennifer,

      Whilst you are enjoying your In-N-Out experience a few times a year, do you take into consideration that animals were crowded together for their entire life, standing in their own excrement, which can be smelled from miles away from the feed-lot farm? And if so, does that bother you on any level? or does the In-N-Out experience outweigh the cons of how that lovely meat was brought to your mouth?

      Also, as a Registered Dietitian, what are your thoughts on the consumption of fecal matter of the Bos Taurus?

    4. Whenever I see anyone with an RD credential I have to take their opinions with a grain of salt. Your whole education was sponsored by Coca Cola and McDonalds. We see what RD’s feed their hospital patients…you really think fat-free Jello and skim milk are healthy?! Yeah, your education has blinded you to common sense.

    5. Lol this comment made me die. You have the balls to post your nutrition credentials and then in the next sentence defend in n out burger. A cheap fast food place that isn’t healthy in any regard whatsover. You’re a disgrace to your profession and any health/wellness enthusiast and you should be ashamed of yourself.

  5. Really come on in and out is defendently better then all the other fast food and if their was a big problem why when you go to in and out the lines are miles long. In moderation once in awhile it’s OK to indulge at in and out. At least the burgers don’t taste like cardboard. Leave In and Out alone.

  6. Stop. Eating. Meat. Period. The meat industry is bad for the environment, people’s Heath, and especially bad for cows, chicken, fish and other animals.

  7. Vani works hard to try and warn consumers to be careful and also to be skeptical. We NEED to be skeptical of the food industry given the historical arrogance and greed of the food industry (those at the top in decision-making positions). Your articles are detailed, and well presented, thank you.

  8. The thing that bothers me the most is that the buns are made with fully hydrogenated oil. That alone will not allow me to ever a a burger with a bun there again!

  9. I admire your diligence in going after individual companies, but I think you are ignoring the elephant ( mainly the Republican party) in the room. If Americans are to be insulated from the ravages and greed of Big ag, pharma and all the other pro-profit to hell with the citizenry companies, political action is required. In Europe where politics is not so polluted by special interest money, GMO’s must be labeled, no pharmaceutical ads directly to consumers and many other priorities meant by to benefit people over profits.

    1. You’re deluded if you think Democrat politicians aren’t also enriched by their corporate ties. They’ve sold out to the highest bidder just as much as Republicans.

  10. I have been an in n out employee for many years and out company has always told us our food is healthy. After noticing a few things related to out food, I did come to a conclusion that in n out food is not as clean as it portrays. I eat clean and have reframed from eating at In n our for the last year and a half. Everywhere go out to eat I ask for a nutritional menu and ingredient list. Now you publishing this

  11. I have been an in n out employee for many years and out company has always told us our food is healthy. After noticing a few things related to out food, I did come to a conclusion that in n out food is not as clean as it portrays. I eat clean and have reframed from eating at In n our for the last year and a half. Everywhere go out to eat I ask for a nutritional menu and ingredient list. Now that you publishing this makes me agree that in n outs ingredient list should be public for our safety. And just like other fast food that is bad for us, it will be the publics choice. Thanks food babe!

  12. Hi there Food Babe,
    I believe this is called biomagnification or bioamplification which is an increase in concentration of a substance within a food chain since in essence we are consuming whatever the cows consume. Could you also do some research about the same in fish. The concentration in Mercury in humans has risen due to Mercury being emitted from coal-fired power plants. How do you see this as affecting “wild caught” fish? Since Mercury level have matriculated into our seas, is wild caught safe?
    Thanks for any research you can find on the matter. Farm raised or wild caught?

  13. Thank You Food babe. This was the only article I could find that gave me some real info on their ingredients .
    Yes, it may be better than other chains, but if you break down the ingredients it’s not health food. You don’t need to have a degree in nutrition to figure out its not good for you.
    My question is would you even want to eat beef raised in a crowded feed lot without antibiotics being used? Is it better for you?
    I don’t understand the push for antibiotic free meat when the issue is the inhumane conditions, giving rise to disease, which is the reason antibiotics are needed in the first place.

  14. What happens to the animals that get sick and need to be treated with antibiotics? Do they have to suffer through an illness that could be easily treated with the use of antibiotics? That seems cruel to me.

    It’s also important to note that no animal that is harvested has antibiotics in its system. All antibiotics have a withdrawal period meaning the producers have to wait a certain amount of time before the animal can be harvested after its last dose of antibiotics.

  15. If you do eat healthy. you are a professional. And I honer you as a human being. I say this because,.as human beings, we are designed to crave carbohydrates. That’s what we do best is crave. So to all the mature people who feel urgency to eat well and force others to….. god bless you and keep up the fight. It’s never over. Much love I wish you the best. I know your out there and I admire you. Thank you

  16. Stop telling people about “possible cancer risks.” In a world where practically everything can cause cancer, this isn’t scary. What’s scary is by consuming these foods or food-like products, you will destroy your body. Your body will malfunction so severely, you won’t be able to poop, you will have severe burning pain, cystic acne, undigested food will rot in your intestines, horrible body odor, hair will fall out, etc., etc… There are a million horrible things that will happen that you will wish you were dead. Tell ppl how their appearance will suffer & they will be in pain. Ppl fear these things the most.

  17. Thanks for this! I’ve been wondering. Eating out on a budget can be tough! Can’t lie- I definitely got bit by the In N Out bug. I would like to still be able to eat it in future but I will have to head your call and pressure them to improve the quality. Like everyone else I see at the drive through though- even to our detriment- we will still eat in N Out. They know this too. It’s a sticky situation. I hope they improve. Will call/email!

  18. I contacted In n Out Customer Service and got a phone call to address my question, which was “Which of your restaurants are still using Cottonseed Oil to make French Fries?” I will say I was contacted less than 24 hours after submitting my question, which was very nice. Shows they ARE trying, at least to respond in a timely manner. The answer is that for the last 2 years, they no longer use Cottonseed Oil, and now only use Sunflower Oil in 100% of their restaurants. She also said, that they like to do things the way they did them 70 years ago, and are quite resistant to change, but with the cooking oil, they felt it was needed. They still use Vanillin, Yellow #5 and HFC in their spread and shakes though. So we still have some work to do.

  19. Thank you for relaying data and information. Reason that detailing the food ingredients is that they (food industry) does not want people to know. Food we eat now is different than what we use to eat – the industrialization and consolation of our food sources have seen tremendous growth and shrinkage respectively. They are not about safe and healthy ingrediants and more on the business of making money. Follow the money – its not the farmers who are getting rich or prosperous.
    Please keep on asking questions, seeking to know what we eat – what is more important to us than the food we put into our bodies? Not too many things!
    Thanks.
    No longer eating fast food and those who like punctuation – PERIOD.

  20. Someone wise once told me there’s no such thing as abusice substances just abusive amounts!

    In-n-Out is good once in a while but not a staple of someone’s diet.

  21. I remember reading the place mats as a kid, 10-15 years ago, and they said the fries were cooked in 100% sunflower oil even back then. I was aware of canola oil and made sure the fries were not cooked in that. Maybe the Bay Area stores switched a while back? It’s a pretty distinct memory for me that in n out fries have always been cooked in sunflower oil, so I was very surprised to read about the cottonseed oil and now I’m not sure what to believe.

  22. so I called a employee at in n out and they said they dont use cottonseed oil ANYMORE but I highly doubt that.

  23. I found other info that backs up the author’s assertions. You are getting antibiotics & unhealthful additives. Enough cottonseed oil will make makes sterile. It’s not a food crop and has the most pesticide of anything. And it’s mostly from China.

    My brother in law is a chef and likes their beef for fat composition & taste. Since they just sent me a card for a free one, I reckon I’ll eat it.

  24. I didn’t know that cottonseed oil is made a byproduct of the industrial waste from the cotton farming industry. I’ve heard that some restaurants use cottonseed oil but I didn’t know why that was bad. Thanks for sharing this information!

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