The Food Industry’s Dirty Secret Ingredients

By Robyn O’Brien, Author of The Unhealthy TruthFounder of the AllergyKids Foundation and proud mother of four

The Food Industry’s Dirty Secret Ingredients

Did you know that some fast-food sandwiches can have as many as 50 different ingredients in them? Or that the grill marks on fast-food chicken don’t come from the grill?

Food may look the same as it did when we were kids, but we are quickly learning that due to advances in technology, there are a lot of new ingredients now found in our food supply. 


Some of these ingredients are hugely beneficial, helping us get more vitamins and minerals to keep us healthy. But other ingredients that are added to our fast foods might shock and surprise you.

Food is a lot like fresh-cut flowers: It’s amazing how fast it can shrivel up or shrink. 

Did you know that the simple phrase “natural flavors” could refer to beef extract that can be found in a milkshake? Or that something called propylene glycol, the ingredient found in anti-freeze, can also keep ice cream running smoothly and salads crisp in a fast food restaurant?

Not many of us do. 

The fast-food industry can slip these ingredients into our food to extend its shelf life, make it look fresher and help manage their cooking times and store profitability, but few of us expect to get these things when we place our orders.

But here’s the real question: Should we worry about it? 

There are groups that might tell us that there is "no evidence of harm," but that’s not the same as telling us that they’re safe. And with so many chemicals now found in our food, few have actually been independently tested, meaning the FDA has to rely on the industry to tell us there is no evidence of harm. That can be hard to hear.

So what’s an eater to do? Budgets are tight and so is our time. One out of every four of us eats fast food in this country every single day. 

Get savvy, get online and do a little research. Some of these fast-food chains use a whole host of ingredients that come from a laboratory, while others have chosen to opt out and use ingredients that come from a farm. 

Need help? Look for the terms like “natural flavor,” “extract” or “essence.” They are code names for a whole list of other things and can be used as synonyms to disguise hidden ingredients.

And remember, the bottom line is that while none of us can do everything, all of us can do something. And sometimes all you have to do is just do one thing. So maybe you want to pick one thing to focus on, to learn about or to opt out of. And before you know it, these changes will add up.

So go for it. If you are worried about the health of a loved one, ask questions, read up – special order if you want to. You have a right to know what’s in your food for your health and the health of your family.

To learn more about ingredients in the food supply, please visit the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

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