The 'Fact' About Taco Bell Beef That Plagued The Chain For Decades

Many dining establishments are guarded about internal information making its way to the public, as illustrated by these unusual secrets fast-food chains don't want their customers to know. Because consumers often want to learn more about their favorite restaurant chains, their curiosity can lead to a flurry of misinformation. Take Taco Bell, for instance, a chain that's been persistently dogged for decades by rumors that it serves "grade D" beef. And a lawsuit in 2011 against the company accused Taco Bell's beef filling of containing only 35% beef.

Lovers of Taco Bell can rest easy knowing that claims about Taco Bell serving grade D beef are false. As pointed out by Snopes, the U.S. does not use letter grades to rank the quality of beef. The myth-debunking site also noted that rumors about low-quality Taco Bell beef usually follow a pattern: A person claims to see packages of beef labeled grade D (or even F) being unloaded into or already in commercial kitchens, and the letter grade is often followed by an alarming descriptor, such as "Edible" or "Fit for human consumption." Indeed, this food reporter heard such a rumor when a high school classmate employed at Taco Bell ominously stated that the chain used grade F meat in its menu items.

Taco Bell uses 'USDA premium' beef in its food

According to the Taco Bell website, the restaurant uses "100 percent USDA premium beef" in its tacos, burritos, bowls, and more. The site also assures consumers that its preparation process is "much the same way you prepare taco meat at home," which means, according to the website, that the meat is cooked, drained, and seasoned. Once this process is complete, the meat is packed in water and sent to 7,936 locations throughout the U.S. to be included in items like Taco Bell's Big Cheez-It Crunchwrap Supreme and Tostada.

While it's clear that Taco Bell does not use "grade D beef," its claim of using only "premium" beef is a bit of a head-scratcher if you consult the USDA website. The agency does grade beef sold in the U.S., but the grades are Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, and Commercial. Prime is the top of the heap when it comes to beef, while Choice is slightly less impressive but still considered a high-quality option. Select is third on the list due to its lack of marbling and diminished texture and flavor. Standard and Commercial grades are sold as store-brand or ungraded. Based on this rating system, Taco Bell's claim about its "premium" beef does leave room for interpretation. 

Digging into Taco Bell's beef debate

According to NPR, the lawsuit that was filed against Taco Bell in 2011 hinged on the claim that the restaurant's beef filling was only 35% beef because of its high concentration of filler ingredients, such as oats. Taco Bell aggressively defended its product as being 88% beef and ultimately emerged victorious when the lawsuit was dropped by the plaintiffs. As a result of the lawsuit, Taco Bell released an ingredient list of its seasoned beef on the restaurant's website

In addition to beef, listed ingredients include water, soy, and seasonings, which consist of many elements. For instance, Taco Bell beef gets its unmistakable flavor from onion powder, chili pepper, natural smoke flavor, cocoa, sugar, citric acid, and many others. Based on this information, it's probably safe to say that Taco Bell beef might not be of the highest available quality, but it's certainly not the bottom of the barrel, either. Now that the great Taco Bell beef debate has been settled, fast-food fans are free to ponder whatever happened to those combo Taco Bell/Pizza Huts of yore.