Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: November 15, 2021

Fast food is exactly what it says on the tin - food that is made fast. When we order a burger from a fast-food restaurant, we don’t expect a 5-star meal and the best wagyu beef.

However, we also don’t expect terrible tasting food injected with antibiotics and other nasty ingredients.

In this article, we’ll be figuring out which fast-food chain has the best quality meat and which ones you should avoid.

We’ll also give you the lowdown on antibiotics, along with the dos and don'ts of the fast-food world.

Summary of the Key Findings

  • Antibiotics in meats can cause a range of health problems. 
  • Farm animals have been treated better over the recent years. 
  • Healthy options are available in a number of restaurants.

What are Antibiotics in Meats?

Meat fillet with syringes injected

The U.S. and China are on the top of the list when it comes to using antibiotics in their animals during food production.

Studies show that around 80% of the antibiotics used in America are used in food animals. [1]

Antibiotics are used in animals for a few reasons. The main reason is to stop the spread of disease since farming animals is a very intense process.

Animals’ immune systems become compromised, and the stress of crowded spaces affects their health.

Another reason antibiotics are used is to make the animals bigger and make them gain weight.

It was perfectly legal for farmers in the U.S. to use antibiotics as growth promoters until recent years. However, many countries have gone on to outlaw this practice.

Nevertheless, many farms continue to give their chickens, cattle, pigs, and other animals antibiotics as soon as they are born, even if they are not sick.

It’s best to get your hands on antibiotic-free meat for a few reasons. This antibiotic use can affect humans, both farmers and the customers consuming it.

The meat may transfer antimicrobial resistance into human bacteria, causing a number of health problems along the way.

So, antibiotic use drastically lowers the quality of the food.

The Best to Worst Fast-Food Chains

Now, let’s get into the fast-food chains. Below, you will find 19 restaurants, in the order of the best to worst fast-food places.

#1 Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle Mexican Grill fast food

Chipotle Mexican Grill is a restaurant chain that has always been my favorite when it comes to the food’s quality.

They are the leader of the ‘no antibiotic use’ in the fast-food world, serving meat from animals that weren’t given antibiotics since 1999. [2]

According to their website, there were only two fast-food restaurants, including Chipotle, that scored an A on the quality of their foods.

They use tons of fresh ingredients, including lettuce, beans, vegetables, and salsa.

“​​If you’re concerned about the quality of the meat a fast-food establishment is serving, health experts suggest checking the ingredients list on the menu, as it may offer unprocessed options as well as plant-based alternatives.” - Healthline.

Chipotle gets most of its ingredients from local suppliers and farms. This is very different from most fast-food restaurants, which source most of their ingredients from national manufacturers. Having responsibly raised beef and other meat makes everything fresher.

The healthy option: A vegetarian burrito bowl or salad with beans, double fajita veggies, salsa, guacamole, and cheese.

Avoid this menu: White rice, sour cream, burritos, black beans.

#2 Panera Bread

Panera Bread fast food

Joining Chipotle on the A list is Panera Bread, one of the first fast-food restaurants to include animals raised without any additives. All of their beef, pork, and poultry are raised without antibiotics.

Today, this fast-food restaurant offers 23 items without any of these nasty additives.

Panera Bread offers a large menu, with lots of salads, soups, and sandwiches. Some of the ingredients used are previously frozen, but they try to keep everything as fresh as possible.

All their sandwiches are made and sold fresh.

The healthy option: Chicken sandwich, eat with soup or salad.

Avoid this menu: Chicken cobb, Thai vinaigrette, avocado, granola.

#3 Subway

Subway fast food

Following the sandwich theme, Subway is next on our list of the best to worst fast-food chains.

This fast-food restaurant has made it its mission to rid its poultry of any additives.

While there has been a lot of bad media about the meats used in Subway, Subway themselves have stated many times that all their meat is, in fact, 100% meat.

Some restaurants around Europe have begun serving a halal option, but there is no news yet if halal will be coming to the U.S.

The healthy option: Veggie salad, grilled chicken sandwich, or roast beef.

Avoid this: Cheese Italiano melt.

#4 Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A fast food

Chick-fil-A is 4th on the list, one of the best burger joints, promising chicken without any additives, hormones, or antibiotics.

Chick-fil-A chickens are raised in barns, and the meat has never been separated or ground.

They source most of their chicken from farms around the U.S., and according to their website, all facilities follow strict standards for food safety.

The healthy option: Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich.

Avoid this menu: Cobb Salad with avocado dressing.

#5 KFC Kentucky Fried Chicken

Kentucky fried chicken top view

In 2019, KFC signed a ‘better chicken commitment’ as a vow to take better care of their livestock.

Since then, they have won the top spot of the World Animal Protection Pecking Order.

They have removed all artificial colors, flavors, and trans fat from their products.

They certainly have seen controversies over the years with their fast food; however, they have certainly got better over the years.

The healthy choice: KFC chicken sandwich, original chicken breast with coleslaw.

Avoid this: Chicken pot pie.

#6 McDonalds

McDonalds fast food

King of the fast-food burger meals, McDonald’s has come a long way with their burgers, nuggets, and other meats.

They have no trans fats and have reduced the number of calories of their fast-food burger and other products.

That being said, they haven’t been able to remove the antibiotics from their meat completely, but they aim to do so by 2022.

The healthy option: McChicken, Big Mac without the fries and soda.

Avoid this: Bacon and cheese clubhouse sandwich, chicken nuggets.

#7 Taco Bell

Taco Bell fast food

After some controversies in 2018, Taco Bell has come out with a statement to ensure the beef they use is, in fact, 100% beef.

While it may not be the most high-quality beef on offer (probably the same quality you’ll find in a grocery store), it isn’t the worst either.

Taco Bell has recently begun to reduce the number of additives and antibiotics used in their chicken.

The healthy option: Fresco Chicken Soft Taco.

Avoid this: Taco beef salad.

#8 Pizza Hut

Getting a slice of Pizza Hut fast food

The fast-food chain Pizza hut scored low on the list in the fast-food battle due to no action towards removing antibiotics in their meat.

They have made some moves in the way they handle their chicken; however, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

The healthy option: Grilled chicken and red pepper pizza.

Avoid this: Buffalo chicken American legends pizza.

#9 Burger King

Close up image burger fast food

While Burger King, like most burger joints, has no additives or fillers, there is still no news about the antibiotics added to their meat.

Burger King has a range of menus; however, few are healthy.

The healthy option: The whopper jr or chicken sandwich.

Avoid this: Ultimate burger king cheeseburger quarter pounder.

Other Fast-Food Chains Include:

Fast food top view
  • #10 In-n-out
  • #11 Shake Shack
  • #12 Starbucks
  • #13 Cheesecake Factory
  • #14 Five Guys
  • #15 Carl’s Jr.
  • #16 Wendy
  • #17 Olive Garden
  • #18 Buffalo Wild Wings
  • #19 Jack In The Box

The Best Burger Joints and Fast Food Restaurants

When it comes to fast-food chains, it can be hard to know what is actually in our meat.

Having responsibly raised beef and chicken can be difficult when the meat has been raised to be cheap.

So which restaurant has the best quality food? I would say either Chipotle or Panera Bread take the number one spot.

They both include many healthier options, and quality-wise, they have no additives, artificial flavors, or antibiotics.

Other burger chains and joints like Shake Shack, Carl’s Jr, or In-N-Out don’t have particularly bad quality meat; they just come with a few additives that we can otherwise live without.


References:

  1. https://www.pnas.org/content/112/18/5649
  2. https://ir.chipotle.com/news-releases?item=122389

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