Here's What Is Really In Taco Bell's Infamous Beef

The late '90s and early 2000s were a wild time, with Britney and Justin wearing matching denim get-ups and everybody all panicked that the Internet would go kaput at the turning of the century. Then there's the rumor, which nearly everyone heard and likely perpetuated, that Taco Bell's beef is "Grade D — Fit for human consumption," "Grade D, but edible," or "Grade F," per Snopes.

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It's a tale that has followed the fast food chain for decades, even despite Taco Bell's new cooler reputation, but as it turns out, it's simply not true. According to the company, the seasoned beef is made uing 100% USDA premium beef. It goes on to say that, like home cooks making meat for taco night, Taco Bell prepares their beef by simmering it, draining it of excess fat, and then seasoning it with the chain's special blend of spices. Still, customers in 2011 were shocked when they discovered the meat contained only 88% beef, wondering what the other 12% could be. It turns out the answer is relatively mundane: The non-beef elements of Taco Bell beef are mostly seasonings and binders.

The meat is no longer a mystery

In 2011 an Alabama law firm brought a class-action lawsuit against the company, alleging that the fast food chain inappropriately labeled its meat as "seasoned ground beef" when it only contained 36% beef (the lawsuit was eventually withdrawn).

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However, that year saw Taco Bell spend $3 million on a TV advertising campaign to debunk, once and for all, the rumors about its meat. Part of that campaign included an explainer on its website (that has since been replaced with other text) that detailed what the other 12% of the ground beef consisted of: spices and binders.

The binders especially, Taco Bell realized, might still scare some people, so in 2014 it acknowledged the strangeness of the names, but reassured consumers that they were all FDA-approved. It even went through them to describe the purpose of each one. One example is maltodextrin, which sounds a little off-putting, but is just a form of sugar.

It's also worth noting that the recipe for Taco Bell's seasoned beef has changed since all this went down in 2011 and 2014. For example, it no longer contains wheat and soy — only soy. Taco Bell hasn't addressed these changes in a public statement, so there is no saying for sure whether the 88% beef/12% spices and binders ratio still holds up.

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Grade D beef doesn't exist

Per Snopes, which does an excellent job of breaking down the myth that Taco Bell's ground beef is "Grade D," no such type of meat exists. There are in fact eight USDA grades (from best quality to worst): Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter, and Canner. Anything that wouldn't fall under one of these categories — that is, unfit for human consumption — doesn't end up anywhere humans can consume it.

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So where did the rumor come from? The truth is, no one really knows; it's just one of those things that started and then caught fire. Perhaps it has something to do with Taco Bell's relatively inexpensive pricing; even today, the chain has some of the lowest prices of any fast food restaurant.

Snopes says some of its readers recall hearing variations on this myth since the 1980s, when "Taco Bell" was replaced by "prison cafeterias" or "schools." The meat was supposedly made up of organ parts of the cow, or it was actually rated "F" when dog food is rated "D." They reported seeing crates of beef delivered to schools that read, "Grade D Beef: Fit for human consumption." Thankfully for Taco Bell, the furor over its meat has mostly calmed down, and the company has moved on — debuting a vegan Crunchwrap with plant-based beef.

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