These Popular Restaurant Chains Have Deadly Chemicals in Their Food

Heading to a restaurant for a meal is a favorite pastime for most. From burgers and fries to more upscale steaks and side dishes, you know going out to eat is a time to indulge beyond the normal. It’s not all good, though, as you may be getting more than you bargained for once your food arrives. It turns out your meal may be laden with chemicals that are extremely dangerous to your health.

So, which restaurant chains are the biggest offenders? Here’s our list.

1. Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen sign

Dairy Queen has a huge amount of antibiotics in their food. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

This chain restaurant known for its delicious desserts may never live down a mistake one location made in 2014. ABC News reports a Dairy Queen employee once accidentally filled a cleaning bottle with vanilla syrup, tainting at least two customers’ milkshakes. That isolated incident aside, The Huffington Post reports this chain has taken no action to reduce the use of antibiotics in their food. And there are plenty of suspect chemicals to give their ice cream that signature flavor as well.

Next: This coffee giant seems harmless — but is it really?

2. Starbucks

Starbucks sign

Coffee may actually be a carcinogen. | Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

It’s not just the food that’s causing a stir in these food chains — it’s also the packaging. Dallas News reports many eateries are using food wrappers that may contain hazardous chemicals known as PFAs. When researchers tested Starbucks containers, they found traces of fluorine, which indicates PFAs are most likely present.

Not only that, but CNBC reports some health groups are pushing for coffee companies to include a warning label that their drinks may cause cancer. This is because there’s a carcinogen that’s a natural byproduct of roasting coffee beans.

Next: Fans of this Italian eatery won’t be too pleased to hear this one. 

3. Olive Garden

The Olive Garden Sign is on the rock exterior of the building

This Italian chain can improve the way it prepares it’s food. | ljhimages/iStock/Getty Images

The breadsticks and pasta dishes are tempting, but we advise skipping this Italian chain. Civil Eats explains Olive Garden received a failing grade when it comes to cutting down on antibiotics used in their meats.

The good news is back in 2006, Olive Garden did vouch to use trans fat-free oils when cooking their meals, Reuters reports. While the restaurant is still far from healthy, it’s a step in the right direction.

Next: This restaurant is known for adding in this controversial chemical to their dishes. 

4. Applebee’s

Applebee's sign

Applebee’s has MSG in their food. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Not only are many Applebee’s dishes full of unhealthy fats and thousands of calories, but they also add MSG into their food, Eat This, Not That! reports. In reality, MSG probably isn’t as terrible as the media has made it out to be. But for people who are sensitive to the chemical, it can cause headaches, nausea, and chest pains.

Applebee’s is also a fan of adding trans fats to their food, which are notoriously bad for your heart.

Next: You’d never guess that this common fast food packaging could be dangerous.

5. Domino’s

Domino's sign

Domino’s boxes used to contain cancer-causing chemicals. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

In 2016, Fox News reported the FDA was banning a common chemical found in pizza boxes. The chemical helps to keep pizza boxes from getting soggy — but the FDA found exposure was linked to birth defects. While you don’t have to worry about this chemical anymore, any pizza you ate prior to 2016 may have been contaminated.

For Domino’s in particular, locations in India were selling breads containing cancer-causing chemicals, says Bloomberg. And like other chain pizza restaurants, they’re also heavy on the MSG usage.

Next: The number of ingredients in this restaurant’s donuts will blow your mind. 

6. Dunkin’ Donuts

Dunkin' Donut's sign

Dunkin’ Donut’s food contains a lot of chemicals and artificial colors. | iStock/Getty Images

There’s no need for a donut to have more than a few ingredients — but The Washington Post reports Dunkin’s sweet treats contained a chemical called titanium dioxide up until recently. This chemical is also found in sunscreen and may cause damage to the brain, organs, and chromosomes. Dunkin’ said they were going to remove this toxin from their donuts — but that still leaves you with 26 other ingredients, some of which are also potentially dangerous, to sort through.

In addition to removing toxins, the donut giant is also feeling the pressure to remove artificial coloring from their products. They plan to work on this through the end of 2018.

Next: Every wrapper tested at this chain restaurant contained dangerous chemicals. 

7. Quiznos

Quizno's Subs

Quizno’s Subs has a lot of trans fats in their food. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Like so many other eateries, Quiznos also has an issue with its packaging. Reports found 100% of the sample wrappers from Quiznos tested positive for fluorine. This indicates dangerous chemicals are most likely lurking in that sandwich you ordered.

And it’s not just the packaging — many sandwiches at Quiznos contain scary trans fats. They might make your sandwich tastier, but there’s a reason most other fast food joints are doing away with hydrogenated oils.

Next: This restaurant chain adds chemicals found in shoe rubber to their food. 

8. Arby’s

Arby's Gives Fans A Sneak Peek At Its New Manhattan Restaurant

Arby’s bread contains a chemical that you can also find in your yoga mat. | Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Both Europe and Australia have banned azodicarbonamide as a food additive — but in the U.S., it’s still fair game. NBC News reports Arby’s uses the ingredient in its croissants, French toast sticks, harvest wheat buns, and more. And this chemical is also found in yoga mats, shoe rubber, and synthetic leather. When baked into bread, it may be cancer-causing — though admittedly, the risk for this is small. Other reports say the chemical may also cause respiratory or skin problems, so consume at your own risk.

Next: They’re known for their pancakes — but perhaps you should also recognize them for their antibiotics. 


IHOP International House of Pancakes

Steer clear of IHOP if you want to avoid trans fats and harmful food colorings. | Wolterk/Getty Images

IHOP has never been all that transparent with their numbers — so it’s tough to get a read on just how many chemicals are going into their food. With that said, Eat This, Not That! says IHOP receives a failing grade when it comes to its antibiotic usage. As for trans fats, the pancake giant is no stranger to adding these into their food, either. And if you have any aversion to dyes — especially notoriously harmful red dyes — be sure to steer clear of the Red Velvet Pancakes.

Next: This fast food restaurant’s salad contains an ingredient found in antifreeze. 

10. Burger King

Burger King in Chicago

Would you willingly eat antifreeze? Probably not. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

You don’t go to Burger King expecting a gourmet meal — but you probably don’t want chemicals in your food, either. The Huffington Post reports fast food giants like Burger King dust their lettuce with propylene glycol to keep the leaves fresh and crisp. While it’s supposedly safe in small quantities, that’s an ingredient that’s also used in antifreeze.

Additionally, Burger King is one of the many companies using potentially dangerous wrappers for their products. They’ve also been the center of controversy a few years back when they were accused of selling horse meat in their burgers.

Next: This company’s CEO says it has one of the cleanest labels in the food industry — but does it really?

11. Wendy’s

The Wendy’s sign

Wendy’s and Arby’s breads contain the same harmful chemicals. | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

It turns out Wendy’s and Arby’s have something in common. The potentially dangerous ingredient found in Arby’s bread is also used in Wendy’s’ buns, panini bread, and bagels, The Huffington Post says. The Wendy’s CEO has since made comments suggesting he wants to move forward with a cleaner label for the company and do away with these chemicals. In the meantime, however, you may also be eating an anti-foaming agent and sodium phosphate, an ingredient found in detergent.

Next: You’ve certainly eaten a burger or two from this infamous fast food restaurant. 

12. McDonald’s

McDonalds sign

You probably know by now that the Golden Arches are not the best diet choice. | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

There’s no reason for a French fry to contain 19 ingredients, but don’t tell that to McDonald’s. Spoon University reports their fries include an ingredient also used as a silicone in Silly Putty. Additionally, their fries (and most fast food in general) contains acrylamide, which may increase your risk of developing cancer if consumed in large doses.

As for antibiotics, McDonald’s has taken steps to eliminate them from their chicken — but the same can’t be said for their beef supply. And they use plenty of hydrogenated oils as well, which means trans fats are lurking in your meal.

Next: It might not seem harmful, but this Mexican fast food giant may hurt you.

13. Taco Bell

Taco Bell restaurant

Taco Bell’s ground beef is only 88% beef. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Taco Bell

When Taco Bell announced its taco filling was only 88% beef, it left Mexican food lovers wondering what else could be in there. ABC News reports the other 12% contains a mixture of acids, coloring, yeasts, and sugars. And notes the yeast extracts and “natural smoke flavor” in the taco seasoning may also give some people a negative reaction.

It’s possible for the caramel coloring used in the beef to contain known carcinogens. And the cheese also contains potentially harmful coloring that may cause an allergic reaction in some.

Next: This pizza chain vowed to use less harmful ingredients. 

14. Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut storefront

Pizza Hut has made some big changes in the way their food is prepared. | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Some restaurant chains are making big changes, and Pizza Hut is surprisingly one of them. According to Fortune, the company has recently removed harmful additives BHA and BHT from their meats, and they’ve also done away with preservatives in their cheese.

This is a good start — but it doesn’t totally clear their name, unfortunately. Pizza Hut removed chicken containing antibiotics from their pizzas in 2017, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the chicken in all their other products is antibiotic-free. And all other additives and preservatives (which there are plenty of) probably won’t be fully removed from their food until 2020.

Next: Their sandwiches seem healthy, but do they still contain scary chemicals? 

15. Subway

Subway Sandwich Chain

Subway is not chemical-free. | Carl Court/Getty Images

This sandwich company made headlines when they removed the “yoga mat chemical” from their food — but that doesn’t mean they’re totally chemical-free. By the end of 2017, they vowed to stop using artificial ingredients like Yellow No. 5 to color their banana peppers and propionic acid to preserve their meats, TIME reports. But Subway still uses textured vegetable proteins and autolyzed yeast for added flavor, which can cause similar sensitivity issues as MSG. And artificial preservatives are still used in all the sauces, toppings, and most of the proteins.

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