Unhealthy fast food items may have earned a spot in your heart, but have you ever wondered how it is that some people who work at fast food restaurants manage not to gain a bunch of weight — even with the constant availability of deliciously addictive menu items? Scratch the surface, and you’ll likely find a couple of different things at work. For one, if you’re involved in preparing fast food, it’s not a stretch that you’ll eventually see something that turns your stomach. In fact, there are a number of McDonald’s menu items that some restaurant workers have decided to avoid for that very reason.
Other employees may have simply lost the taste for it. One Reddit user who worked at Burger King lost their desire to partake after observing their family overeating it. Even if you ignore all the calories in fast food items, there’s virtually no way to spend any time in a fast food kitchen without recognizing just how unhealthy some of what you’re serving is. And, from what we’ve found, that can take all the fun out of eating it. Read on for the unhealthy fast food items that even the staff refuses to eat.
McDonald’s grilled chicken
Do you subscribe to the popular assumption that the grilled chicken on the McDonald’s menu is a reasonable choice? Well, it appears that at least one of McDonald’s employees would beg to differ. "A lot of people choose to be healthy and order our grilled chicken instead. Not a lot of people realize that they’re eating at a fast food joint and we WILL find a way to make anything unhealthy," the employee revealed in a Reddit thread in 2013.
The Redditor couldn’t help but notice that a lot of liquid margarine was used in preparing McDonald’s grilled chicken. "To keep it from sticking to the grill, we use three squirts of liquid margarine on the bottom of it. To keep it juicy, once we’ve lain the frozen blocks of chicken, three more squirts of liquid margarine are applied to the tops." And margarine contains about the same amount of total fat as butter, according to Providence Nutrition Services. As such, this healthy-seeming sandwich may actually be pretty bad for you.
Burger King fries
Fast food restaurants have rules aimed at making sure the food you’re served is sanitary, of course. However, how those rules are followed may vary by location. Moreover, there may always be an employee who simply ignores the rules. Based on statements made by a former Burger King fry cook in a Reddit forum from 2013, it appears that Burger King is not immune to this issue.
Specifically, the Redditor pointed out that he frequently observed one of his coworkers spilling french fries on the floor only to then pick them up and put them back in the cooker — "dirt and all." He also witnessed that same worker dropping two chicken patties onto the floor, stepping on them, and then serving them anyway. It was something the fry cook could never unsee, and is the reason he won’t eat at Burger King anymore. Whether or not you subscribe to the five-second rule, the fact is that food dropped on the floor will come back up with bacteria adhering to it (via National Geographic).
Putting aside the fact that the gravy at Whataburger has twice been alleged to have caused second-degree burns, said gravy may or may not even be fresh when it’s served, according to one Redditor employed at Whataburger. In a 2013 Reddit forum, the employee revealed, "I currently work at Whataburger and I would never order the chicken gravy. It has an expiration of eight hours, but unless it gets used up before then, we will leave it sitting there until it does, which can be well over the eight hours."
Apparently, the expired gravy goes from its normal creamy and white appearance to a "gross brown color" with a "super thick" consistency. While Consumer Reports has pointed out that "sell by" notations do not rise to the level of "do not consume after" warnings, it can be difficult to tell when a food is expired, or whether it’s become contaminated with food-borne bacteria.
Subway Meatball Marinara
Subway‘s "eat fresh" motto may be more aspirational than factual. Now, you may be perfectly comfortable with the freshness of whatever it is you typically order from Subway. However, if that happens to be the meatball sub, you might reconsider after hearing how a Subway employee and Redditor responded to a 2021 Reddit post, which petitioned fast food restaurant workers to name the one item from their chain they’d never eat.
"Meatballs are probably the worst menu item for me now," the employee confessed. "Meatballs are heated from frozen in a microwave then left to sit in a bath of hot water to keep warm. Supposed to be thrown out after four hours but I would sometimes start a shift and see the bag I made yesterday still sitting there." The poster didn’t share his location, but you may have to consider the possibility that this practice is happening at a Subway near you — as well as the fact that expired meat can cause any number of forms of food poisoning, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Steak ‘n Shake shakes
One Reddit user revealed something scary about Steak ‘n Shake’s food safety practices back in 2015 when she responded to a Reddit post, which asked fast food employees a loaded question: "What should we not order at your restaurant?" The Redditor revealed that anyone with a peanut allergy who orders a shake from Steak ‘n Shake may be taking a serious risk with their health and their life. "Steak n’ Shake waitress here," she began. "Don’t order the milkshakes if you have allergies."
Apparently, each Steak ‘n Shake location has around a dozen metal shake containers that they use to make shakes all day long. Allegedly, the containers are merely rinsed with water between uses. That means any peanut residue from one of the many shakes on the menu may or may not be rinsed away by the time you order your peanut-free shake. While we have not yet heard of any allergic reactions occurring as a result, it’s certainly food for thought.
Arby’s roast beef
When Arby’s says, "We have the meats," do notice how they use the plural form of "meat"? Spoiler: You may not be able to hear that catchphrase the same way again after reading this.
The "roast beef" Arby’s slices up to pile atop a bun is not actually what you think of when you think of roast beef (i.e., a single cut of meat), but rather "a compressed block of beef scraps," alleged an Arby’s employee and Redditor who contributed to a January 2021 Reddit post regarding the one item fast food workers would advise against ordering. The Redditor continued, writing, "It comes in a bag filled with beef broth, and you just warm the entire thing in the oven for a few hours. And once the compressed beef block is heated, you put it on the slicer and leave it under a heat lamp for hours to slowly desiccate."
Even if that doesn’t necessarily gross you out, you should know Arby’s roast beef falls under the definition of ultra-processed food, which, according to a 2020 study published in the Nutrition Journal, is linked to dying earlier from all causes.
Any fast food restaurant’s ice
Many fast food employees have confessed via social media that they know better than to consume the ice at their place of employment. Even with regular cleaning, fast food restaurant "ice machines are disgusting" and "could very well be teeming with mold, bacteria, and even broken glass," a fast food restaurant employee commented on a Reddit forum in 2015. But just how serious is the health risk?
"The same risk you can get from food, Salmonella, E. coli, any of those pathogens can also be found on ice," stated Sherri Woodus, retail food section chief for the Arkansas Department of Health, told SafeIce.org. And while a McDonald’s employee and Redditor defended the cleanliness of the ice at Mickey D’s, the reality is that you really don’t know how clean the ice machine is at any particular fast food restaurant you happen to patronize. Good luck trying not to think about this next time you eat at any restaurant or order a cocktail "shaken." (We’re sorry.)
McDonald’s Sweet Tea
Out of all the weird rules that McDonald’s employees have to follow, not a single one addresses how much sugar they are compelled to put into the McDonald’s sweet tea. Nevertheless, one employee and Redditor posted about it in a Reddit forum from 2013. "McDonald’s sweet tea," the employee began. "Pound. Of. Sugar. Per Gallon."
If this is true, that’s quite a bit more sugar than McDonald’s claims to put in their sweet tea. But even if McDonald’s doesn’t use the pound-per-gallon formula as alleged, the restaurant still uses a lot of sugar in their sweetened tea. As noted on the McDonald’s website, a small and large sweet tea are listed as having 21 grams and 38 grams of sugar, respectively.
Although it’s okay to indulge in the occasional high-sugar treat, the fact is that too much dietary sugar can really do a number on your health, contributing to a host of conditions that might otherwise be avoidable, including obesity, diabetes, and fatty liver disease (via Harvard Men’s Health Watch).
Wendy’s All-Natural Lemonade
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, right? Apparently, however, you won’t find employees using actual lemons to make Wendy’s lemonade. Yes, despite the fact that Wendy’s touts their lemonade as "all natural" and "real" — and notwithstanding that the ingredients list indicates lemon juice is the third ingredient (after water and sugar) — you’d be hard-pressed to find a Wendy’s employee who has witnessed lemons being squeezed.
Rather, a commenter pointed out in a Reddit post, "The ‘fresh’ lemonade comes from a carton and mixed with tap water." To be fair, as another Redditor pointed out in response, Wendy’s does not actually claim their lemonade is fresh-squeezed. This, of course, calls into question what the word "real" means in this context. A reasonable person might think it means lemonade that has been squeezed from lemons on site. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s threshold for "real" is quite low, allowing the tiniest bit of fruit concentrate to count (via WebMD). The more you know!
McDonald’s egg whites
If you’ve been substituting egg whites for whole eggs in your breakfast sandwich, you may be surprised to learn how egg whites are prepared at McDonald’s restaurants. According to a Redditor and former McDonald’s employee, the egg white alternative is "just as unhealthy, if not more so, than the regular round eggs." The reason? The Redditor revealed regularly observing the cooks at their McDonald’s location spraying lots of extra butter on the grill and inside the round egg rings.
Although this observation was made in 2013 regarding a particular McDonald’s location, McDonald’s does admit to this practice. "At participating McDonald’s, we use 100% egg whites in our Egg White Delight McMuffin, cooking them on our grill with real butter in an ‘egg ring’ for that iconic round shape," McDonald’s website states. However, it’s unknown just how much butter is being sprayed on or around your egg whites.
This may be true at other fast food joints, as well. For that matter, it can be hard to know when dining at any other kind of restaurant. However, at a restaurant where dishes are made to order, you may be able to specify "no butter." Whether such requests are honored at fast food chains really depends upon the individual restaurant.
White Castle Sliders
We know White Castle’s sliders are delicious, but what about healthy? Not so much. All fast food is processed to some extent, but White Castle’s sliders may be the most processed of all. Molded into uniform rectangles resembling Lego blocks, they’re steam-grilled over dehydrated onions and adjacent to the factory-made buns, in which they’ll be served.
Assuming White Castle employees exercise reasonable care with regard to avoiding cross contamination, there’s still the unavoidable fact that highly processed food has been linked to premature death from all causes, according to a 2020 study published in the Nutrition Journal.
But that’s not why some who have worked at White Castle make a practice of not partaking in their employer’s burgers. According to one Redditor and White Castle employee who hosted a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" in 2015, the steaming process can result in soggy sliders, which can cause an upset stomach. Other Redditors agreed. Whether it’s true or not that "soggy sliders" is actually the cause of stomach discomfort, the thought alone is probably enough to make your stomach turn.
Tim Horton muffins
Ah, muffins. We all know by now that these cupcake-resembling treats are, well, pretty much cupcakes. But sometimes what you really want is dessert for breakfast, right? And we’re not here to tell you not to, although we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that muffins may be one of the unhealthiest breakfast foods. And that brings us to some advice given by a Redditor who participated in a 2013 Reddit forum in which fast food workers shared the foods they would never eat under any circumstances.
The commenter, who worked at Tim Horton’s at the time, pointed out that some of the restaurant’s muffins contain significantly more fat than the doughnuts – you know, the ones customers would eschew in order to make a healthier breakfast choice. While the takeaway isn’t necessarily "don’t eat the muffins at Tim’s," you might want to consider whether it’s really worth ordering a muffin that’s full of empty calories.
One of the reasons that Wendy’s chili is so tasty is the fact that it’s made with "fresh" meat — or so we have been told. The question, however, is what exactly does Wendy’s mean when they say, "fresh"?
One Wendy’s employee and Redditor revealed the true meaning in a 2021 Reddit comment: Wendy’s chili meat is made from leftover meat from burgers that failed to sell. Another Wendy’s employee agreed, saying, "It gets cut up and thrown into the chili. Aside from that, we always kept things clean."
Is this cause for alarm from a health standpoint? That all really depends on whether the chili is cooked to a high enough temperature to destroy any bacteria that might cause a foodborne illness, according to the FDA, which advises reheating all cooked, leftover meat to a minimum temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Once removed from the heat source, it must be refrigerated or consumed within two hours.
Panda Express Beijing Beef
No matter how deliciously crispy, sweet, and savory it might appear, the Beijing Beef at Panda Express should be avoided. And it’s not just us who feel that way. In a Reddit forum regarding menu items fast food workers would never eat, one commenter mentioned having worked at Panda Express and being horrified by the calorie counts of some of the dishes, specifically calling out the Beijing Beef.
According to Panda Express’s website, the Beijing Beef delivers 470 calories per 5.6-ounce serving. That may not sound like a whole lot, but of those 470 calories, about half come from fat, and nearly 20 percent of that fat is saturated. At 150 calories per 5.4-ounce serving — and even with 70 of those calories coming from fat (including 1.5 grams of saturated fat) — the Broccoli Beef is a far healthier choice at Panda Express.