View Full Version : Anatomy of a Big Mac

03-08-2010, 13:48

As a follow-up to my article on McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets, I thought I would examine the contents of a Big Mac in depth. In my analysis, as my primary source, I will use the International Program on Chemical Safety (IPCS), an intergovernmental organization that provides peer-reviewed research data on chemicals that are used throughout the world.

In the interests of being fair and balanced, I will acknowledge that the chemicals examined below are likely to be in very minute amounts, below maximum limits set for human consumption by government safety watchdogs like the FDA. However, it is my position that there is no valid reason to eat chemicals that have absolutely no nutritional value, in any amount. And, if you’ve been paying any attention at all to the “fracking” debacle popularized by the movie “Gasland,” you might have a good idea of just how competent government agencies are at protecting you from dangerous chemicals and greedy industry.

According to McDonald’s corporate website, a Big Mac contains the following:

100% Beef Patty
100% pure USDA inspected beef; no fillers, no extenders. Prepared with grill seasoning (salt, black pepper).

Big Mac Bun
Enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, enzymes), water, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, soybean oil and/or partially hydrogenated soybean oil, contains 2% or less of the following: salt, calcium sulfate, calcium carbonate, wheat gluten, ammonium sulfate, ammonium chloride, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, datem, ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, mono- and diglycerides, ethoxylated monoglycerides, monocalcium phosphate, enzymes, guar gum, calcium peroxide, soy flour), calcium propionate and sodium propionate (preservatives), soy lecithin, sesame seed.


Pasteurized Process American Cheese
Milk, water, milkfat, cheese culture, sodium citrate, salt, citric acid, sorbic acid (preservative), sodium phosphate, artificial color, lactic acid, acetic acid, enzymes, soy lecithin (added for slice separation).


Big Mac Sauce
Soybean oil, pickle relish [diced pickles, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, vinegar, corn syrup, salt, calcium chloride, xanthan gum, potassium sorbate (preservative), spice extractives, polysorbate 80], distilled vinegar, water, egg yolks, high fructose corn syrup, onion powder, mustard seed, salt, spices, propylene glycol alginate, sodium benzoate (preservative), mustard bran, sugar, garlic powder, vegetable protein (hydrolyzed corn, soy and wheat), caramel color, extractives of paprika, soy lecithin, turmeric (color), calcium disodium EDTA (protect flavor).



Pickle Slices
Cucumbers, water, distilled vinegar, salt, calcium chloride, alum, potassium sorbate (preservative), natural flavors (plant source), polysorbate 80, extractives of turmeric (color).

Chopped onions.

100% pure USDA inspected beef; no fillers, no extenders – if you have seen the movie, “Food, Inc.,” I’m sure you will find the claim “100% pure beef” a bit hard to swallow (pun intended). One of my favorite scenes was when they showed mass-produced beef patties, destined for fast food restaurants, being “cleaned” by industrial machinery using ammonia. Though admittedly I cannot say if that particular beef was destined for McDonald’s, this article appears to confirm that McDonald’s uses the “ammonia beef.”

high fructose corn syrup – Increased use of high fructose corn syrup has shown significant correlation to obesity rates according to Princeton University researchers. Obesity is far from the only problem related to high fructose corn syrup and other highly processed forms of corn, the problems of which are worthy of a separate article. I highly recommend the documentary film “King Corn” for more information on today’s industrial corn products.

partially hydrogenated soybean oil – An unhealthy trans fat created through an unnatural chemical process known as hydrogenation which McDonald’s had promised to remove from its foods years ago. This is an example of one of the same trans fats that were banned in so many places due to the substantial health risks associated with them.

calcium sulfate – According to the IPCS this chemical “gives off irritating or toxic fumes (or gases) in a fire” (we’re cooking this right???) and should only be handled with safety gloves and safety googles. It causes a cough when inhaled, abdominal pain when ingested and irritation of the eyes upon contact. Additionally, according to a Center for Disease Control (CDC) “material safety data sheet (MSDS),” this chemical can cause “irritation of the eyes, skin, mucous membranes, and upper respiratory tract” as well as “conjunctivitis, rhinitis, laryngitis, sore throat, tracheal and bronchial irritation, nosebleeds, and impaired sense of smell and taste” as reported by workers who have been exposed to this substance.

wheat gluten – Gluten is a part of wheat that commonly leads to and/or exacerbates a glut of health problems such as leaky gut, celiac disease, allergic reactions of many sorts, bowel problems, neurological dysfunction.

ammonium sulfate – The IPCS has a lengthy and detailed 231 page safety study on this chemical. Needless to say there is a lot of data to analyze. The IPSC states: “Ammonium sulfate is of relatively low acute toxicity (LD50, oral, rat: 2000 – 4250 mg/kg bw; LD50 dermal, rat/mouse > 2000 mg/kg bw; 8-h LC50, inhalation, rat > 1000 mg/m3).” Essentially this means that it takes between 2-4.3 grams per kilogram of body weight to kill a rat when eaten. Clinical signs after oral exposure included staggering, prostration, apathy, and labored and irregular breathing immediately after dosing at doses near to or exceeding the LD50 value.” According to the study, ammonium sulfate also appears to be a fairly effective killer of some species of fish (see page 6) in concentrations as low as 11mg/l.

ammonium chloride – The IPSC says this chemical should only be handled using safety gloves and safety goggles (does this sound like a broken record yet?). Ingestion results in nausea, sore throat, and vomiting. Contact with skin or eyes results in irritation and soreness. Inhalation results in cough and sore throat. IPSC again states: “substance decomposes on heating producing toxic and irritating fumes (nitrogen oxides, ammonia and hydrogen chloride).

azodicarbonamide – This is a particularly fun chemical which has been banned for use as a food additive in Australia, Europe and Singapore where use as such carries a penalty of up to 15 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $450,000. The substance is so toxic the US Government allows it only up to 45 ppm (that’s parts per million) as a food additive. Do you really want to eat food that has chemicals purposely added that are so toxic they must be regulated at the part’s per million level? The IPSC says you should wear protective clothing, breathing protection and safety goggles to handle azodicarbonamide. Inhalation results in cough, headache, shortness of breath, sore throat, wheezing, fatigue and cramps while contact with skin and eyes can cause irritation and soreness. This substance is flammable and decomposes at 225C giving off toxic fumes of nitrogen oxides. Can I interest anyone in a job at McDonald’s bakery where your your work uniform may look something like this?

sodium propionate – As usual the IPSC recommends safety gloves and goggles but also breathing protection. This chemical is flammable and gives off toxic fumes when burned. Inhalation results in cough and sore throat and exposure to the eyes results in pain and irritation.

03-08-2010, 13:50
Now that we’re finished with the bun shall we move on to the cheese and “special sauce?”

sodium phosphate – You may remember this “ingredient” from Chicken McNuggets, but to refresh your memory it’s an oral laxative which was used for colonoscopy preparation until it was withdrawn from the US market due to concerns about kidney damage and even outright acute renal failure in the form of phosphate nephropathy. As an industrial chemical the IPSC has some really exciting things to say about sodium phosphate! You should wear protective clothing and a “face shield or eye protection” in combination with breathing protection, if you wish to handle this chemical. Ingestion: abdominal pain, burning sensation, shock or collapse. Contact with eyes: irritation, pain and “deep severe burns” – ouch! Contact with skin: skin burns, pain and blisters. Inhalation: Burning sensation, cough, shortness of breath and sore throat. To be clear we aren’t sure which “sodium phosphate” McDonald’s is using in their McNuggets and burger cheese; in the cheese they refer to “sodium phosphate” and in the McNuggets they refer to “sodium phosphates.“ None of the “sodium phosphates” are suitable for inclusion in food items, in my opinion. Specifically referencing trisodium phosphate, Wikipedia confirms its use as a food additive and also historically as a component of soaps and detergents until that practice was largely discontinued due to “ecological problems.” Trisodium phosphate also finds uses in cleaning agents (although not in your bathroom because it can “corrode metal” and “damage grout”), as a flux in the soldering process, as a “painting enhancement” to clean and degrease walls and by some brave souls as a “performance enhancing” nutritional supplement until they realized it is “severely irritating to gastric mucosa.” I can see why the fake food formulators at McDonald’s felt sodium phosphates would make excellent ingredients for their cheese!

calcium chloride – Although “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” in small amounts by the US Government and the EU, this is a toxic chemical that kills lab animals and is “severely irritating to the gastrointestinal tract.” The good news is oral toxicity is rare in humans because “large single doses induce nausea and vomiting.” Why would anyone want to purposely eat this stuff???

sodium benzoate – IPSC says protective gloves, clothing and goggles should be used to handle sodium benzoate. It’s flammable, causes eye irritation, skin rash, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

calcium disodium EDTA – EDTA comes in several different types, disodium, tetrasodium and calcium disodium. The IPSC has only one page dedicated generally to “EDTA,” however, Wikipedia notes many industrial and medical uses of EDTAs as well as the fact that EDTAs have been “found to be both cytotoxic and weakly genotoxic in laboratory animals” and “oral exposures have been noted to cause reproductive and developmental effects.” Not something I would choose to eat willingly.

I can already anticipate one attack on the information provided above, something along the lines of “these ingredients are only included in minute quantities” and “anything will kill you in sufficient quantities, even table salt.” My response to that is that table salt is needed by the body. A complete absence of table salt will also kill you while a complete absence of sodium benzoate, for example, will not. To the best of my knowledge, none of the chemicals listed above are needed by the body in any quantity. So why eat something that is known to be toxic even if the government tells you it’s safe in a small quantity? It’s amazing what you can learn just by reading the labels and using Google and other freely available resources like Wikipedia and the IPSC Website.

If you think you are better off because you live in the EU, think again. While the EU does have slightly stricter standards for food additives than the US, there are still plenty of dangerous additives allowed in the EU. The Independent, a UK newspaper, documented 78 additives currently in use in McDonald’s food in the UK. The article also notes that the number of additives in use in McDonald’s food is increasing rather than decreasing as McDonald’s had pledged in 2007. If you are in the UK, you may be interested in the “Action On Additives” campaign which seeks to reduce or eliminate senseless additives from the food supply that are harmful to children.

I’m currently working in Denmark, in a lovely town called Svendborg. There is a McDonald’s about a 3 minute walk from my hotel. Lots of families with young kids were in there this morning when I passed it – just as there are, I’m sure, in the countless McDonald’s that have sprung up in so many countries around the world. This is not Real Food, folks! Please think about what you are putting into your childrens’ bodies. We are what we eat.

03-08-2010, 14:03
Good stuff xsnoof. Well done.

I used to live near Cambridge and the closest town had a huge IFF site making artificial flavourings and additives. There is one additive that smells like almonds, and which is known to cause hyper-activity in children. Whenever they did a batch run of this one additive, you'd know because the cloud hung over the town and as I said, it smelled of almonds, kids behaviour would deteriorate. Teachers hated those days.

03-08-2010, 19:27
Interensting info indeed.

But aren't we all loving it from time to time ;) I wonder why? I guess due to that content it is somehow addictive. I don 't eat it very often though. Luckily.

Seems like I should contact Mac Donald. They would be very good customer of ours looking at the food chemical ingredients content :)

03-08-2010, 20:00
it was explained, because they feed the cows a lot of junk there feces contain a lot of e coli bacteries. and when they are slaughtering the cattle these nasties get onto the skin and into places where it can not always washed off, or when they take out all the intestines and they burst. bon appetite.
so instead of feeding the cattle the last 2 weeks only gr**** which would reduce these e-coli by 90% and cause no problem. but that is to expensive, they they concoct something with ammonia, pack it into blocks and boxes and add it to the burger mince, where it will *(hopefully) kill all the e-coli nasties.
when i was watching THAT i thought, these guys should be force feed a kilo or two burger meat with ammonia. i hope they will sit on the throne for a week or so and wretch their guts out.