Consumers’ Consumption Presumptions: A Hamburger Helper

%28Screenshot+from+the+McDonald%27s+website%29
Back to Article
Back to Article

Consumers’ Consumption Presumptions: A Hamburger Helper

(Screenshot from the McDonald's website)

(Screenshot from the McDonald's website)

(Screenshot from the McDonald's website)

(Screenshot from the McDonald's website)


Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






By David Haverburg

The English language is voluminous enough in verbiage that most every word has at least one other synonym that can be used without modifying the gist of the message. There is no difference between walking, strolling or sauntering, nor is there difference between sleeping or snoozing. There is, however, an area we all frequent where seemingly synonymous words stop being interchangeable and take on heavily codified meanings: The grocery store, and any other place that serves or provides food.

Due to the massive efforts of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as the food industry itself, almost every noun, adjective, verb and adverb has a recognized definition that must be used accurately lest the offender suffer legal penalties. As a consumer of ‘foodstuffs’ it’s important to know about these definitions because collective ignorance of the topic is commonly used to the food industry’s benefit to sell products under circumstances we may not fully understand.

A good primer on this is an examination of a McDonald’s Hamburger. The final word in the preceding sentence is capitalized because “Hamburger” is the title of the product, not an ingredient in the product. A McDonalds “Hamburger,” defined by the company’s ingredients list found on it’s website, is comprised of “REGULAR BUN, 100% BEEF PATTY, KETCHUP, PICKLE SLICES, ONIONS, MUSTARD.” This seems like the standard composition of any lowercase “h” hamburger: A bun, a hamburger and condiments.

But that isn’t a hamburger in the McDonalds “Hamburger.” It’s a “100% BEEF PATTY,” and there is a massive difference between the two words. As defined by the FDA, a hamburger “… shall consist of chopped fresh and/or frozen beef with or without the addition of beef fat as such and/or seasoning, shall not contain more than 30 percent fat, and shall not contain added water, phosphates, binders, or extenders…”

This differs from a patty (or “pattie”), which is a hamburger with the following appended: “Binders or extenders, Mechanically Separated (Species) used in accordance with § 319.6, and/or partially defatted beef fatty tissue may be used without added water or with added water only in amounts such that the product characteristics are essentially that of a meat pattie.”

Furthermore, a patty can be called “100% BEEF” when, as stated by the USDA, “the only added ingredients are partially defatted chopped beef or finely textured beef. An ingredients statement would be required on bulk packed product but not retail packages. —All,“ —Pure,“ or —100 percent,“ may not be used if partially defatted beef fatty tissue (PDBFT), is used or mechanically separated species (MSS), are used.”

In a colloquial setting the grilled ground beef between two buns can be interchangeably called a hamburger or a patty. In a setting under the thumb of the FDA and the USDA the two products are very different. Combining the definitions above of what a “100% Beef Patty” can consist of and what McDonald’s states their patties are comprised of (“100% Pure USDA Inspected Beef; No Fillers, No Extenders”) we can determine that a McDonald’s hamburger can contain: ground beef, partially defatted chopped beef and finely textured beef. It cannot contain: extenders, fillers, partially defatted beef fatty tissue or mechanically separated species. That “100% Beef” term is not a descriptor. It’s a definition of a specific product.

This is not meant as an anti-McDonald’s screed. I think it’s reasonable to expect that any prepared meat sold for a dollar or less will have gone through quite a bit of non-traditional processing. Where I get irritated is when it is not widely known that the wording used by these companies is very precise (and federally mandated). McDonalds cannot say they serve a hamburger in their Hamburger, because their protein product is actually a “100% Beef Patty.” What consumers consume should be very clear not obfuscated by clever wording and general unknowingness about food labeling laws. “Walk” and “stroll” may mean the same thing, but within the confines of the food industry “hamburger” and “patty” are very different products.

In the coming weeks I hope to expand on this topic. Food labeling is a massive operation that involves political lobbies, politicians and industries, each jostling for the most advantageous of label wording. This can result in definitions one may not have found necessary (Raisin Bread is defined by the government in 21CFR136.160), but for the most part these definitions and how the definitions come to be directly affect what you eat.