1. News & Issues
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

David Emery

Taco Bell Meat: Grade 'D'?

By January 25, 2011

Follow me on:

A CLASS-ACTION lawsuit has been filed accusing Taco Bell of false advertising because it describes the meat used in some of its products as "seasoned ground beef" when in fact, according to the January 19th filing, "a substantial amount of the filling contains substances other than beef."

The lawsuit cites USDA standards requiring that food products labeled "Taco filling" contain at least 40 percent fresh meat. The restaurant chain's ingredient statement lists wheat, soybean, and "isolated oat product" as components of the "seasoned ground beef" used in tacos and burritos, but doesn't divulge percentages.

Taco Bell responds

Without addressing the specifics of the lawsuit, a prepared statement issued by Taco Bell says the company will "vigorously" defend itself against the charges:

Taco Bell prides itself on serving high quality Mexican inspired food with great value. We're happy that the millions of customers we serve every week agree. We deny our advertising is misleading in any way and we intend to vigorously defend the suit.

(Update: In a subsequent statement, Taco Bell characterized the class action lawsuit as "frivolous and misleading," and said its ground beef mixture consists of 88% USDA-inspected beef and 12% "seasonings, spices, water and other ingredients that provide taste, texture and moisture.")

(Update: The lawsuit was dropped in April 2011.)

While we wait for southern California's U.S. District Court to render a decision on the merits of the case, it might be fruitful to recall some of the urban legends that have circulated about Taco Bell in recent years.

Urban legends: Taco Hell

One popular legend claims the restaurant uses worm meat as a "filler" in its beef products (not true). Allegedly, earthworms and mealworms are cheaper than beef, which is not actually the case.

Another myth claims Taco Bell receives meat deliveries in boxes labeled "Grade D but Edible" (also not true). There's no such grade of beef.

And then there's the tale of the unfortunate Taco Bell customer who woke up with cockroaches in her mouth after eating a taco infested with insect eggs (oh, please!).

Other fast food chains including McDonald's and KFC have been subject to similar "gross-out" urban legends over the years, shining a light on the ambivalent attitude we Americans have toward our fast food: it scares us, but we love it. And we keep going back for more.

Read more about it:
When Is Beef Not Beef? Ala. Law Firm Sues Taco Bell
Full Text of Class Action Suit
Lawsuit Over Content of Taco Bell Beef Dropped
Taco Bell: Food Facts

More fast food urban legends:
Worms as 'Filler' in Fast Foods
Cockroach Egg Tacos
Woman Finds Chicken Head in Fried Wings
Is McDonald's the World's Largest Purchase of Cow Eyeballs?
Pus-Filled Tumor in McChicken Sandwich
KFC Serves 'Mutant' Chicken


January 25, 2011 at 8:13 pm
(1) Josie says:

Grade D not edible is absolutely true…was at taco bell when they were getting a delivery

January 25, 2011 at 8:43 pm
(2) David Emery says:

Sorry, Josie. There’s no such thing as “Grade D” meat except in reference to the maturity of the animal when slaughtered. Nice try.

February 28, 2011 at 8:15 am
(3) James says:

Bulls–t. I seen with my own two eyes a box that said “Grade D but edible” laying outside of a taco bell. I read it several times and stared at it. So yes, it is true!

January 25, 2011 at 10:57 pm
(4) LemonMeister says:

TACO BELL and KB Home get less than you pay for? Melissa Lora is the currently a Board of Director for KB Home Inc and the Chief Financial Officer of TACO BELL. Melissa Lora does not have a biography on TACO BELL’s Official Website? No one in management at TACO BELL has a bio on their website. Are they hiding? Another reputation issue since the food poisoning outbreak TACO BELL’s E. coli bacteria was famous for? In March 2005, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) won a landmark victory in its national boycott of Taco Bell for human rights. KB Home uses undocumented workers to build its homes? Taco Bell? A lawsuit filed in 2011 alleges that Taco Bell beef is comprised of less than 35% beef. We’ve seen the goop, it pours out of a bag like dried brown flour that coagulates into something that looks like ground beef when water is added. Other distinguished KB Home Board members include Melissa Lora’s buddy Bruce Karatz who was just convicted as a felon and is currently under house arrest in his 24 room Bel-Air Mansion (not built by KB Home) serving out his 8 months home confinement for swindling 11 Million Dollars. Martha Stewart is a spokesperson for KB Home also served time for her former stock swindle. Gary A. Ray head of KB Home human resources is a convicted felon in this current stock swindle. Melissa Lora and KB Home built this lemon with Bruce Karatz. KB Home is under a Federal Trade Commission Consent Order. KB Home must buy back your home if not 100% satisfied within the first year? Melissa Lora has never responded as KB Home Board of Directors to any customer complaint letter sent to him by certified mail. KB Home sells Lemons, Just Google Melissa Lora.. http://preview.tinyurl.com/6buzywe

January 26, 2011 at 12:04 am
(5) Samuel says:

That Taco Bell food is worth a dime.I had to stop eating there,cause every time my stomach would be tore up for two days.The best advise stay away from that place.Please save your stomach from that s**t.Just say no.

January 26, 2011 at 8:29 am
(6) Richard says:

This article suggests that the filler story is an urban legend. Bad boy David. Is “greed” an urban legend too?

January 26, 2011 at 9:53 am
(7) David Emery says:

No such implication intended. As I said, the court will decide the merits of the lawsuit.

January 26, 2011 at 4:31 pm
(8) Thor Goodpenis says:

There is no such thing as Grade D beef; at least not from the USDA. They’ve never used a letter grading scale, only prime thru utility.

January 29, 2011 at 9:26 pm
(9) Stumper says:

It seems to me that in my more formative years about 60+ years ago, the lowest grade of beef was labeled “canners and cutters.” Have things changed since the 50′s?

January 27, 2011 at 9:11 am
(10) Ferrari Bubba says:

I had to stop eating at Taco Bell because I ended up spending that night, and half the next day curled up around my toilet, hurling from both ends. But, I must say, it was a quick way to lose 10 pounds. — Yer pal, Ferrari Bubba

January 27, 2011 at 11:23 pm
(11) Smart Gal says:

Last time I ate at Taco Bell, I too had it coming out both ends. No more for me. I’m a Del Taco fan now.

January 27, 2011 at 12:01 pm
(12) Warrend says:

I am a retired food scientist and specialized in meat processing technology.

My guess is that someone is confusing MDV labeling with product specific specifications listed in the ever changing USDA Meat and Poultry Regulations.

This is sort of splitting hairs. Specific ingredient listing is not required on the nutrition label and for other than retail, this labeling isn’t “required” on the final consumer package – a taco. In formulating, all things that contribute to “protein” are lumped together as a percentage of the final product.

As an example, if you take oat flour and hydrate it 1 to 8 with water you have 9 units of protein contribution in the nutrition statement.

This is nothing new. It is not something food processors care to discuss because of the heavily technical elements that go into the preparation of “nutritional” foods.

This doesn’t make the food less desireable. But the hype is misleading. For your body, food is food.

January 27, 2011 at 5:05 pm
(13) bob says:

there is a group of edible food products that may arrive ” not ready to eat”.
meat is labelled using 2 modes: the marbling and maturity. some people may be confusing the ‘maturity” labelling with the overall grade that is given to the meat. maturity uses the lettering while the overall grading is based upon words ” utility, select, choice, commercial, prime etc”

this whole thing is a bit crazy- does anyone still really believe, in this day and age- that the ‘beef’ that is in the burgers etc in these fast food joints are ‘ 100% pure”?

the ‘beef’ that is in there may be ’100% pure beef” but it only is about 35- 40% of the patty or meatball or whatever else it is.

the ‘ not ready to eat ‘ designation simply means that it has to be cooked further or have something else done to it.

then and only then is it ready to eat.

January 27, 2011 at 6:16 pm
(14) ElsieAnne says:

David, please keep us posted on the outcome of the hearing. It does seem that some independent analysis could be (and perhaps HAS been) performed on the product to determine its actual content. I hope we are able to see the results.
Thanks for all your work!

January 27, 2011 at 6:24 pm
(15) Skeptic says:

What’s the big deal with you people? I didn’t need a lawsuit to tell me the obvious. Their “seasoned beef” is not beef in the same way that “wood laminate” is not wood, “fruit flavor” is not real fruit, etc.

Look at it! See what it’s priced at! Taste it! And tell me you were surprised… I still like it for the same reasons; and no, it does nothing to my intestines. If it affects you, stick with baby food.

January 27, 2011 at 6:27 pm
(16) bob says:

apart from the spices, the ingredients have already been listed in each and every article that I have read about this lawsuit. the laywers maintain that the batch that they tested had only 35% beef- the rest being ‘filler’. oats, soy, and a bunch of other things. probably autolyzed yeast cells as well.

all anyone has to do is use a search engine to follow this ‘news’. I am not sure who the lawyers are trying to ‘save’ by their lawsuit of taco bell. they aren’t doing the world a favor by bringing this to anyone’s attention. Anyone who didn’t know that the ‘beef’ was not pure beef surely hasn’t been paying attention in life.

you might as well sue mcdonalds for serving coffee that is hot- and then force them to put a label warning ” contents may cause burns if you stupidly put the paper cup between your legs or otherwise dump it on you”.

whatever is in taco bells ‘meat’ is probably similar to what is in a hot dog- it aint pretty. It reminds me of the stuffing you can buy at stores that extend a pound of hamburg– I think it’s called hamburger helper or something.

the people who eat and /or love taco bell’s products get what they deserve.

January 27, 2011 at 6:34 pm
(17) bob says:

I find it hard to believe that this is a story.

the story should NOT BE ABOUT taco bell but rather should be about the group of LAWYERS who are attempting to wrap this publicity campaign up in a veil of ” doing something for the little guy- the consumer”.

No one was hurt by taco bell’s food- other than people who can’t stomach the stuff. and they know enough to stay away.

same thing happens with every fast food joint- the food is laced with msg ( or insert whatever allergen of the day ). People who are allergic to msg know enough to stay away. and they don’t take answers such as ” I don’t know- try it to find out !” from the pimply faced waiter at the FFJ.

This ain’t news about Taco bell. They sell the stuff for 99 cents. McDonalds is selling double burgers for 1.40. Any sane reasonable person SHOULD know that the patty can’t be pure beef throughout.

This ain’t news.

the lawyers should be sued.

January 28, 2011 at 10:00 am
(18) David Johnson says:

The main problem with Taco Bell isn’t a lack of *meat* in the “seasoned taco filling” – it’s a lack of seasoning.

Go, find a Mexican restaurant owned by actual Mexicans – they only outnumber Taco Bell’s about 10 to 1. Most could make cardboard taste better than Taco Bell’s stuff.

January 28, 2011 at 10:38 am
(19) bob says:

I agree with the last comment. The “food” at taco bell isn’t mexican. The press release said ” mexican inspired”.

and the food at taco bell does cause people some .. um.. ‘ gastric distress”…. lol..

not one of my mexican friends eat that crap. I have been fortunate enough to have made friends with several Mexican people. They have made their home dishes for me on many an occasion. Apart from one dish- I have enjoyed them all. And the food that the mexican people actually make and eat is far superior to that you can find at Taco BEll.

mexicans do use spices – but not “instead” of meat- the spices etc are not to make up for any meat that is missing-. the mexicans ( and other south and central american friends of mine ) use the spice ‘ in addition ” to the ingredients. IT enhances what is there.

whatever causes people to ‘shoot out of both ends ” is not part of mexican food. If anyone equates TAco Bell food with authentic mexican cuisine- well, they deserve what they get.

Real Mexican food does take a bit of time to get used to. But they say the same thing about our NOrth American cuisine.

and for the record: the lawyers who started this class action lawsuit should be reprimanded as it surely is just a ploy to get advertising for themselves.

wow.. ‘very little meat in the ‘taco bell meat stuffing’. there’s news.

January 28, 2011 at 11:55 am
(20) Randall Marshall says:

You’re wrong Mr. Emery, Thor – my friend and I, who are real insomniacs, have seen the “Grade D” boxes being unloaded not just once, but multiple times. I’m going to take my camera and do a stake-out this weekend and see if it’s still out there.

January 28, 2011 at 12:35 pm
(21) MoonDog says:

Abject lie regarding your suggestion that Grade D meat does not exist. It most certainly does exist. I suggest you research your subject prior to publishing an article.

Having eaten at Taco Bell restaurants for more than 35 years, the day I saw a box of meat being unloaded from a truck that read “Grade D But Edible” – I stopped eating at Taco Bell.

January 28, 2011 at 3:10 pm
(22) David Emery says:

Dear MoonDog,

We anxiously await your evidence.

January 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm
(23) Kevin144 says:

Sorry to say, I have seen “Grade D” on a large (around 50 lbs) package of hamburger meat at a certain fast food restaurant (not Taco Bell) in Dallas, TX around 1982.

Why is that so hard for you to believe?

Maybe it wasn’t “USDA Grade D”, but nevertheless it did say “Grade D”. I was there. No, I didn’t take a picture or a video or grab the package to prove it to you.

Perhaps it was not a USDA grade, but some internal company grade.

I remember laughing and laughing and my manager said “Don’t tell anybody.” But I’m telling you now, it said Grade D.

So, whatever, you are wrong this time.

June 8, 2011 at 9:22 pm
(24) Emily says:

I worked at a Taco Bell in Mounds View MN and saw “grade D’ on our boxes as well.


June 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm
(25) Laura says:

I Have also worked in a Taco bell and seen the grade d beef on the box. Many times. On each box. I had never heard of people talking about it, had I not seen it i neer would have known.

January 29, 2011 at 7:09 am
(26) Vivienne says:

Grade D and E cattle (or cattle that would be classified as such) are commonly used for processed beef products. Taco Bell ground beef is processed, precooked, sealed in heat proof plastic bags, frozen, then re-heated in hot water in the bag (this form of cooking is called Sous-vide).

From http://www.fsis.usda.gov: “Lower grades (Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter, and Canner) are mainly ground or used in processed meat products”

From Wikipedia:

“Ground beef is usually made from leaner, tougher and less desirable beef created when the sides of beef are carved into steaks and roasts. About 17-18% of US ground beef comes from dairy cows.

In 2008, eight different brands of fast food hamburgers were evaluated for water content by weight and recognizable tissue types using morphological techniques that are commonly used in the evaluation of tissue’s histological condition. The study found that the content of the hamburgers included:

* water content 37.7% to 62.4% (mean, 49%)
* meat content 2.1% to 14.8% (median, 12.1%)
* Skeletal tissue
* Connective tissue
* Blood vessels
* Peripheral nerve tissue
* Plant material
* Dirt
* Adipose tissue
* Bone and Cartilage (“Bone and cartilage, observed in some brands, were not expected; their presence may be related to the use of mechanical separation in the processing of the meat from the animal. Small amounts of bone and cartilage may have been detached during the separation process”)”

*note: I think the beef grade is listed on the box the ground beef packets come in, so maybe just ask a taco bell employee to see the box.

Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Does_Taco_Bell_use_grade_D_meat#ixzz1CQQhhmfS

January 29, 2011 at 10:39 pm
(27) bob says:

grades D and E cattle- would be rare to find as most cattle is slaughtered before it gets to be this age. but it could be possible.

it could be that the company from whom they purchase their ‘beef filler’ is using grades D and/or E beef to make their product. as they would’nt be concerned with the amount of fat in the product.

If this is true that they use beef from old cattle, then it doesn’t make anything incorrect in the assessment of the claim.

as it has always been said that the container says ” grade D but edible ” and others have said ” GRade D not edible”

So perhaps the supplier is using grade D beef . As all beef served in the states has to be usda inspected.

Why would anyone selling such a product to a restaurant chain put ” not edible” on the box that they are shipping to the company?

Certainly you’d have to question the intelligence of anyone putting ‘Grade D- not edible” on the package.

the ” not edible” and ‘ but edible ” parts may be something that someone else scribbled on the carboard box.

I can see them using beef from old cows and so perhaps grade D could possibly be on the box. possibly. although it would be foolish to do it. If TB is getting their product from another supplier, then that other supplier would have to be the one receiving the USDA grade D beef.

If the boxed is in fact stamped ‘ but edible ” or ‘ not edible’ then that is just about the most foolish thing a restaurant would allow anyone to put on their cartons.

I wouldn’t not be worried about D or E beef products. I am always more concerned about the staff washing their hands after going to the bathroom and picking up other germs from routine unhygeinic practices in the kitchen.

You are more likely to get sick from those things than the D or E beef.

February 1, 2011 at 11:58 pm
(28) Brian says:

Nothing at taco bell is actually cooked in the restaraunt. Everything comes packaged exactly as it looks when u eat it. It’s all warmed up in hot water, EVEN the meat. When I worked there, I lost my appetite for everything there.

February 2, 2011 at 11:52 am
(29) Lillie says:

I totally agree. I went to Taco Bell about a month ago and ended up throwing the food in the trash. I was afraid to eat it…because after a few bites….it just tasted nasty. I was afraid I would get food poisioning. I thought there was definetely something wrong….just didn’t know what until I heard about the class action law suit on tv.
I hadn’t eaten there for about a year….and like I said….something was just wrong!

February 2, 2011 at 1:13 pm
(30) phil says:

I think it is easy to go after Taco Bell because the food is so atrocious. I don’t see the appeal of it. It looks like glop. and tastes like glop. So it is pseudo-food or something. It is like something found being served by lunch lady Doris on the Simpsons. It isn’t meat- its something else- some derivative of meat. or from Cheers as norm said ” it’s not beef- it’s booef!”

the food doesn’t stay down well for many people. it’s some gelatinous goo that makes many people’s digestive system revolt. autolyzed yeast, soy, textured vegetable protein, remnants of anus, intestines, snout and lips. the list goes on.

I do believe that the meat is made from old cows- so grade D is not an issue for me- I can easily believe that. Yet the comments that it came stamped ” GRade D but edible’” or GRade D not edible” strain credulity.

I believe that the meat- however little there is on it- that is in that gelatinous goo stuffing is made from grade D cow. If the meat make up 40% of that crap, then you are lucky.

as has been said, many times it seems- if you eat at Taco BEll, you deserve what you get.

February 8, 2011 at 1:40 am
(31) Rule .303 says:

#1: Actually, Mexicans do eat Taco Bell. Not only have I known several who do, but I’ve seen countless Mexicans eating there and ordering from drive-thru. No, they don’t seem to view it as proper Mexican food, but they do seem to enjoy it. If anything, because it’s cheap and it’s American. But then, most of you seem totally unaware of what else Mexicans eat in Mexico – I can tell. What you ate at a friend’s house was probably made with your presence and tastes in mind. Having spent many years in Mexico…

Most shredded Pork starts out as Pig snouts – That scared the hell out of me when I was a kid and saw that thing come out of the pot. Especially since I’d already eaten Tacos from the first batch. They also enjoy things like Turkey Tails, Pigs Feet, Tacos made from Blood, Brains and other viscera, frying with actual Lard and the most common foods outside of Mexico – Menudo and Chorizo. Their food isn’t too terribly different from what the Chinese actually eat – yeah, I was there too.

February 8, 2011 at 1:43 am
(32) Rule .303 says:

#2 Not only is there a risk of getting food poisoning from tainted food or from the staff not washing their hands, but there’s the same risk when you don’t wash your hands! People talk a lot about washing their hands but ya’ know, I really don’t see them do it very often. I usually see them walk-in, order, sit down and dig in. No washing, no Purell.

Maybe they think that they can skip it if they didn’t use the toilet? But what did they walk in with, what did they touch since they came in? The doors, their money, the counter, the trays, the tables, the seats.. And it’s like this for most eateries, not just the Fast Foods. They’re in a place even more public than the NYC Subway (no fare required to enter a Restaurant) but they act like they’re “safe” at home. Next time you’re out somewhere, watch your fellow patrons. :)

March 26, 2011 at 9:56 am
(33) Joann says:

Wouldn’t it be easier if you all did a little research before you posted?? OK, here is “some” of what I found.

It seems it is “possible” they did see a “Grade D” ….

according to Beef Quality and Yield Grades by
Dan S. Hale, Kyla Goodson, and Jeff W. Savell

Department of Animal Science
Texas AgriLife Extension Service
College Station, TX 77843-2471

Updated February 10, 2010

Article in part reads -

In terms of chronological age, the buttons begin to ossify at 30 months of age. Determine age using thoracic buttons. When the percentage ossification of the cartilage reaches 10, 35, 70, and 90 percent, the maturity is B, C, D, and E, respectively.

Carcasses are stratified into five maturity groups, based on the estimated age of the live animal
Carcass maturity
Approximate live age
9 – 30 mos.
30 – 42 mos.
42 – 72 mos.
72 – 96 mos.
> 96 mos.
Skeletal Ossification

Condition of the bodies of the split chine bones:

A- Red, porous and soft
B- Slightly red and slightly soft
C- Tinged with red, slightly hard
D- Rather white, moderately hard

It was rather a lengthy article but there were several different ways beef could be considered a “D” NONE of it good…

January 5, 2012 at 9:57 pm
(34) Uhriventis says:

If you read the .pdf there is even a class e, haha. You are wrong Emery.

January 5, 2012 at 11:14 pm
(35) David Emery says:

Read more carefully.

“D” and “E” are part of a different classification system referring to the maturity of animals at time of slaughter. They are not quality grades.

January 27, 2012 at 8:25 am
(36) Matt says:

I work at taco bell unloading the delivery trucks and they have never once said “Grade D”, They say “TACO FILLING”.

June 6, 2013 at 3:17 pm
(37) adam says:

I my self have also seen taco bell boxes and used them to move with taco meat boxes labeled “grade D human consumable”. You can suggest there is no such meat. Also in the military we had meat that came in bags labeled “grade D meat for military and prison’s only”. Can one of you know it all’s explain this?

June 7, 2013 at 12:16 am
(38) adam says:

For the career taco bell worker who unloads the trucks, this was back in 2002 that I used the taco bell boxes to move that were labeled,”grade d human consumable

August 30, 2013 at 1:09 am
(39) Cb says:

Very true McDonalds meat cardboard containers said ‘grade D but edible’. Why is this being considered a myth?

August 30, 2013 at 12:00 pm
(40) really ?? says:

A-E look for yourselves.

April 6, 2014 at 9:36 pm
(41) HF says:

Grade D or not the ground beef they use tears my stomach apart the next day. Unless i drink a big glass of metamucil before hand i can’t digest that stuff.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>
  1. About.com
  2. News & Issues
  3. Urban Legends

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.