Absent further details, there’s less than meets the eye about McDonald’s “cleaner” McNugget, says CSPI


Headlines yesterday and today gave the impression that McDonald’s is test-marketing Chicken McNuggets that are “cleaner,” “healthier,” “simpler,” and free of artificial preservatives. But it’s not clear which of the McNuggets’ many ingredients are actually getting the boot, or how much it will matter.

One such preservative in McNuggets is citric acid, which the Center for Science in the Public Interest ranks as perfectly safe. Another preservative mentioned in the media coverage is Tert-Butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, which is listed as an ingredient in the frying oil, but not in the McNugget itself. But that raises the question of why McDonald’s is only talking about preservative-free McNuggets, when its French Fries are also fried in oil with TBHQ. (CSPI does recommend that consumers avoid TBHQ, which increased incidence of tumors in rats in one government study).

“McDonald’s declined to provide the full list of ingredients for the overhauled McNuggets,” according to Crain’s Business News, which broke the story. But because the company declined to give out details, either to media outlets or to CSPI, CSPI says there’s likely less than meets the eye about the news.

“The Chicken McNugget is and will almost certainly remain mostly chicken, food starch, water, white flour, and salt, deep fried in oil,” said CSPI president Michael F. Jacobson. “If the company is getting rid of TBHQ, that would be a step forward. But if McDonald’s were to cut half of the sodium in McNuggets, that would better justify breathless headlines that claim this product is ‘healthier.’”

A 10-piece order of McNuggets, excluding any dipping sauce, has 900 milligrams of sodium, or 37 percent of the Daily Value for anyone aged four and older, according to the company’s website.

CSPI’s Chemical Cuisine page ranks the safety of the most commonly used food additives. In 2013, the nonprofit food safety and nutrition watchdog group described the additives used in McDonald’s seasonal McRib sandwich.