If you prefer your fast-food dinner antibiotic-free, opt for Chipotle or Panera Bread—and don’t even think about Arby’s or Sonic. That’s the advice you can gather from an annual report card just released on the fast-food and casual dining industry regarding the antibiotic use in meat served at some of our favorite places to grab a quick bite.
“Chain Reaction III: How Top Restaurants Rate on Reducing Use of Antibiotics in Their Meat Supply” was produced by Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Food Safety, Food Animal Concerns Trust, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and Consumers Union. Together, they reviewed and rated the top 25 fast-food and casual restaurant chains in the United States on their antibiotics use policies and practices.
Just like humans, when animals are sick, they oftentimes need antibiotics to get better. But unlike humans, livestock animals are also sometimes given antibiotics to promote growth or prevent disease in the unsanitary conditions in which they live. When antibiotics are administered to people or animals unnecessarily, bacteria can become resistant and, according to the CDC, antibiotic use in food animals can lead to that resistance.
What does that mean exactly? Simply put, the antibiotics might not work for us humans when we really need them. That can lead to people being sick for longer and, for those who are really ill, even death.
According to the report, your best bets for avoiding the risk of antibiotics in meat are Chipotle and Panera Bread, both of which received an A grade. Subway is close behind with a B+, after adopting a new policy last year that helped them improve from the F grade they received in 2015. KFC made the most improvement over the year, earning a B- compared to last year’s F, as they have now made a commitment to transition all their chicken to being raised without antibiotics considered important in human medicine by the end of 2018.
When it comes to a specific food—pizza—you’d be better off with Pizza Hut or Papa John’s, but they still have D ratings, just slightly above Little Caesar’s and Domino’s failing F grades.
The worst offenders are the casual dining restaurants: Olive Garden, Applebee’s, Chili’s, IHOP, Cracker Barrel and Buffalo Wild Wings all received F grades.
If you’re not willing to give up meat at the restaurants receiving failing grades, at least order the chicken. The report shows the most progress has been made with poultry.
“It is important to note, however, that while remarkable progress has been made to reduce or even eliminate use of medically important antibiotics, this progress has largely occurred in chicken production,” the report reads. “With a few exceptions, companies have made little progress in reducing the use of antibiotics in their pork and beef supplies.”
Take a look at the chart below, which shows the grades received by the top 25 fast-food and casual chains:
The CDC says each year, at least 2 million people in the United States become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die annually as a result. Of those, Salmonella and Campylobacter, two types of bacteria transmitted through food, cause an estimated 410,000 cases.
The infographic below explains how antibiotics in animals end up making people sick:
To help prevent bacteria from becoming resistant, the CDC says to only take antibiotics when really needed, wash your hands, keep raw food away from clean surfaces, cook your food to the right temperature and always refrigerate foods properly.