Taco Bell Sued Over "Taco Meat Filling"

Taco Bell Sued Over “Taco Meat Filling”

According to the LA Times, Taco Bell is being sued over the beef in its tacos. The class-action suit, filed on behalf of Amanda Obney, claims that the chain restaurant’s “Taco Meat Filling” is only 36% beef… waaaay short of the standard definition of “beef.”

The class-action suit, which does not ask for money, objects to Taco Bell calling its products “seasoned ground beef or seasoned beef, when in fact a substantial amount of the filling contains substances other than beef.”

It says Taco Bell’s ground beef is made of such components as water, isolated oat product, wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodextrin, anti-dusting agent, autolyzed yeast extract, modified corn starch and sodium phosphate, as well as some beef and seasonings.

Just 35 percent of the taco filling was a solid, and just 15 percent overall was protein, said attorney W. Daniel “Dee” Miles III of the Montgomery, Ala., law firm Beasley Allen, which filed the suit.

“Taco Bell’s definition of ‘seasoned beef’ does not conform to consumers’ reasonable expectation or ordinary meaning of seasoned beef, which is beef and seasonings,” the suit says. Beef is the “flesh of cattle,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Gizmodo has a breakdown of the ingredients:

Taco Bell “beef” pseudo-Mexican delicacies are really made of a gross mixture called “Taco Meat Filling” as shown on their big container’s labels, like the one pictured here. The list of ingredients is gruesome.

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 looks bad but passable… until you learn that—according to the Alabama law firm suing Taco Bell—only 36% of that is beef. Thirty-six percent. The other 64% is mostly tasteless fibers, various industrial additives and some flavoring and coloring. Everything is processed into a mass that actually looks like beef, and packed into big containers labeled as “taco meat filling.” These containers get shipped to Taco Bell’s outlets and cooked into something that looks like beef, is called beef and is advertised as beef by the fast food chain.

Ok, adjectives like “gross” and “gruesome” are a bit over-the-top – the list of additives is long, but there’s nothing there that isn’t perfectly edible or unusual (go look at the ingredients in any number of commercial seasoning mixes). It’s the percentage of actual beef that’s the real issue.

Needless to state, Taco Bell vehemently denies the claim:

Taco Bell is challenging a class action lawsuit, which was filed on Friday in a California court. The YUM Brands-owned fast-food chain vows to take “legal action” against claims that the beef items on its menu only contain 35 percent of the meat and don’t meet government label requirements.

…Taco Bell, however, issued a statement that says otherwise. “At Taco Bell, we buy our beef from the same trusted brands you find in the supermarket, like Tyson Foods. We start with 100 percent USDA-inspected beef . . . Unfortunately, the lawyers in this case elected to sue first and ask questions later, and got their ‘facts’ absolutely wrong. We plan to take legal action for the false statements being made about our food,” Greg Creed, Taco Bell’s president and chief concept officer, said in a statement.

In the full press release issued by Taco Bell, Mr. Creed states that the company’s “seasoned beef” is actually 88% beef and 12% seasonings. That’s considerably more than the percentage claimed in the lawsuit.

So who’s right? That’s for a judge and jury to decide. But I’ll certainly be curious to find out.

Author: elissa

Elissa is a former research associate with the University of California at Davis, and the author/co-author of over a dozen articles published in scientific journals. Currently a freelance writer and researcher, Elissa brings her multidisciplinary education and training to her writing on nutrition and supplements.


  1. This should be interesting. I would’nt think it would be to hard to prove either way. Get a sample of the “meat” and have it analyzed. The outcome could cause someone some grief, either way.

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  2. This is just as disturbing as the fact that someone out there is looking to Taco Bell as their source of quality lean beef.

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  3. I don’t think TB will actually have to do that – I expect the taco filling is created by a range of contract manufacturers to TB’s specifications. Thus, pulling one or more sets of production/QC records and getting affadavits from supervisors should be more than sufficient to make TB’s case – should the company have one.

    And I have a sneaking suspicion that it does. If you go back and read the quote from one of the attorneys, he says something rather revealing:

    “Just 35 percent of the taco filling was a solid, and just 15 percent overall was protein”

    Ok, which is it: 35% beef or 35% “solid”? ‘Cause there’s a biiiiiig difference between the two. USDA data for “Beef, ground, 70% lean meat / 30% fat, crumbles, cooked, pan-browned” indicates that it’s ~56% water (55.8g/100g), and only 25.5% protein (25.5g/100g). Since TB is claiming 88% beef, 100g of filling would contain roughly 22g protein… which isn’t much. And that’s assuming TB’s figure is based on the cooked weight of the filling… if the 88% is based on raw weight, the protein drops even lower, due to the presence of more fat. Much of the latter would be drained off during home cooking, but this might not be the case for a commercial product. Add some emulsifiers and thickeners, and you can blend it right in.

    This will seem counterintuitive to many laymen, but “beef” – particularly your standard-issue supermarket ground beef – isn’t a great source of protein (relative to the calories it contains). So a low-ish protein percentage doesn’t necessarily mean that the filling doesn’t contain a high percentage of beef. It may not be the kind of beef that you or I would care to eat, but still perfectly consistent with fast food/restaurant/supermarket standards.

    Even worse, if the samples Obney submitted for testing weren’t “clean” (i.e., contaminated by other taco ingredients, such as exudate from chopped tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream and/or taco sauce), then this could also have affected the analysis. And the lab that ran the sample(s) will also be a factor. If Obney didn’t choose a lab specializing in the analysis and interpretation of food samples, her case will be substantially undermined.

    So, TB could be blustering… or it could be holding a very strong hand, indeed… in which case, Amanda Obney and her lawyers are about to have their a**es handed back to them.

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  4. I think the first thing to do is prove that TB is actually food. Or more importantly, that it is somehow mexican food : – )

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  5. LOL – well, a fast food restaurant selling cheap food is the last place I’d look, if I wanted to eat quality beef. But in this, TB is no more guilty than any other fast food place.

    To take an example, a plain McDonald’s hamburger (105g) contains only 13g protein ( http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fast-foods-generic/8044/2 ). We can estimate the percentage of protein in the patty by difference. A plain burger bun (Wonder Bread, white ( http://www.wonderbread.com/hamburger-buns.html ) is 43g and has 3g protein. That leaves 62g and 10g for the meat patty size and protein content, respectively. 10/62 x 100 = 16% – very close to the 15% that the lawyer (quoted in the LAT) claimed was the protein content in TB’s meat filling.

    Unless Mickey D’s is using a bunch of fillers in their meat too, this is one more indication that TB is probably telling the truth… the company probably is using 88% beef. It just happens to be crappy beef (at least from my 96% lean-sensitized POV).

    While I couldn’t care less about the internet/media dogpile on TB, I’m starting to think that people are piling on for the wrong reasons, lol.

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  6. I guess I should be happy to say that I have never eaten at TB. I surely would not consider it a place for “quality beef”.

    I think your right. There probably no better or worse than any other “fast food” establishment. I guess you just take your chances when you eat at one.

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  7. A company spokesman quoted in the LAT referred to TB’s food as “Mexican inspired.” It’s a term that allows for plenty of wiggle room. 😀

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