TIME Fast Food

McDonald’s Liable for Employees’ Treatment, Labor Board Rules

Fast Food Workers Across U.S. Rally For Increased Wages, Unionization
Fast food workers and activists demonstrate outside McDonald's downtown flagship restaurant on May 15, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson—Getty Images

If upheld, the decision could make it easier for fast food workers to unionize

In a key decision that could pave the way to unionization for thousands of fast food workers, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that McDonald’s is jointly responsible for employees’ treatment by the brand’s franchise owners.

McDonald’s has long held that it isn’t liable for the treatment of its employees at the approximately 90% of its 14,000 restaurants that are owned by franchisees. But the recent decision could make McDonald’s liable for the labor practices of thousands of independent operators at its locations, and where employees have claimed they were fired for trying to unionize.

The NLRB said in a statement that of the 181 complaints involving McDonald’s since November 2012, McDonald’s will be named as a joint respondent in 43 of them, making it responsible for actions taken at thousands of its restaurants.

Labor organizers have long argued that McDonald’s should be held accountable as a joint employer because it controls menus, uniforms, supplies and many other terms of operations. The New York Times reports that in the past McDonald’s has urged franchises to lower wages.

“McDonald’s can try to hide behind its franchisees, but today’s determination by the NLRB shows there’s no two ways about it: The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple,” Micah Wissinger, an attorney at Levy Ratner who brought the case on behalf of McDonald’s workers in New York City, said in a statement.

The International Franchise Association criticized the decision, saying it could hurt the franchise business model and jeopardize jobs in the fast food industry.

“If franchisors are joint employers with their franchisees, these thousands of small business owners would lose control of the operations and equity they worked so hard to build,” Steve Caldeira, CEO of IFA in a statement. “The jobs of millions of workers would be placed in jeopardy and the value of the businesses that employ them would be deflated.”

The mean hourly wage at restaurants as of mid-last year was $8.74, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fast food workers have been calling in recent months for the right to form a union without retaliation and $15 hourly wages.

Other chains, including KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King and Taco have a franchise model similar to McDonald’s.

McDonald’s said in a memo to its franchisees that it believes there is “no legal or factual basis for such a finding” and that it is appealing the decision, the Wall Street Journal reports.

TIME Food & Drink

You Can Now Get Tofu McNuggets at McDonald’s in Japan

Views Of FamilyMart Convenience Store And McDonald's Restaurant As Retailers Halt Chicken Sales From China Supplier
Yuriko Nakao / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Ingredients include "onions, soybeans, carrots and minced fish"

If the “chicken” in McDonald’s “chicken” nuggets freaks you out, head over to Japan to try the franchise’s newest snack: Tofu Shinjo Nuggets, which officially go on sale this Wednesday.

They don’t include any chicken — instead, they’re made from ingredients including onions, soybeans, carrots and minced fish, a McDonald’s spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal. They’ll also come with a ginger-flavored sauce.

“Because it isn’t meat, it tastes a bit different. It’s a bit softer,” the spokesperson said. “Calorie-wise, it is a bit lower than chicken as well.”

They basically look like little patties with some pale bits of vegetables mixed in. Check them out in this advertisement:

Apparently, McDonald’s had plans to begin selling this product well before the recent allegations that the chain had been using expired meat.

TIME Fast Food

CMO: Chipotle’s Successful Because It’s Been ‘Very Consistent’

Inside A Chipotle Restaurant Ahead of Earnings Figures
Employees prepare lunch orders at a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant at Madison Square Park in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

TIME spoke with Chipotle's chief marketing officer, Mark Crumpacker, about why Chipotle is wrapping up the competition

Chipotle, the food industry’s fastest-rising star, reported earnings Monday that far exceeded Wall Street’s expectations. Despite higher menu prices because of some food supply shortages, Chipotle’s burritos (from the bowl-sheathed varieties to the tortilla-ensconced specimens) and tacos (soft and hard) are flying off the counters. The company’s sales at locations open for at least a year bounced up 17 percent over the last year, an enviable figure for any restaurant. The company’s stock rose 12 percent on Tuesday with the announcement that in three months alone, Chipotle had revenues of over $1 billion. And Chipotle predicted it will open between 180 and 195 stores in 2014. (That’s at least one every 48 hours.)

Founded in 1993 with the opening of its first store in Denver, Colorado, Chipotle was one of the first chain restaurants to move to using naturally raised animals, which meant securing a meat supply that wasn’t — and still isn’t — fed hormones and antibiotics. It got an early boost from McDonald’s, which divested its assets in 2006 when Chipotle went public. Chipotle started serving naturally-raised pork in 2000 and naturally-raised chicken 2002 and continues to refine its food supply.

To find out more about what is making Chipotle so hot, we talked to the company’s chief marketing officer and right-hand man to CEO Steve Ells, Mark Crumpacker.

TIME: I have to ask, because it’s a question I ask myself whenever I go to Chipotle: When is the guacamole going to be free?

Mark Crumpacker: [Laughs] When it costs less than steak. Guacamole is incredibly expensive. I wish it were free because people love it. I think more than half of our orders include guacamole in one form or another.

T: Chipotle raised its menu prices this year, but in-store sales still increased 17 percent. Why are people so into Chipotle despite higher prices?

MC: I wish there were a super-simple answer for it. We haven’t changed a lot about what we’re doing. We’ve been very consistent with what we’ve done over the years. Chipotle doesn’t play the typical marketing game where we add new menu items and try to get people in with gimmicks like that. So I don’t think we’ve changed so much as consumer demand has changed. I have to wonder if maybe consumers aren’t catching up with us, in a way. Frankly, we’re just really positioned well to be where those folks want to go.

T: What are foodies demanding these days, and how does that line up with what Chipotle cooks?

MC: We see a trend toward people wanting higher-quality food. And it comes in a number of different flavors. Some people are interested in health, other people are interested in the impact of the food they eat on the environment. Generally speaking, across most of the different age segments we look at, we’ve seen an increase in people’s propensity to do that. If you’re going to do that, if you’re going to care a little bit more about where your food comes from, and you’re going to eat fast food, your choice is going to get limited pretty fast. There’s not a lot you can do, and Chipotle is quite well-known for having higher quality ingredients.

T: Who does Chipotle compete with? Do you compete with non-chain, mom and pop restaurants, or Taco Bell?

MC: A lot of people talk about doing the things we’re doing, but I don’t think there’s a competitor our scale that’s doing what we’re doing with regards to spending more on our ingredients. Our food costs are just higher than the other guys’ are. We’re spending more on them and there aren’t processed menu items. We do a lot of the cooking by hand in the restaurant. There’s not a lot of that going on [with other chains].

Having said that, we compete with everybody. Our customers definitely go to McDonald’s, some of them go to Taco Bell, they go to a lot of different restaurants.

T: McDonald’s was an early investor and divested its assets in 2006. In what ways did Chipotle overlap with McDonald’s, and then how have the two companies now become different entities?

MC: The companies were always very different entities. McDonald’s had a very hands-off relationship with Chipotle. They provided support where we wanted it and that was largely on real estate, logistics, supply chain issues initially. But it quickly become apparent that we were essentially heading in a different direction and there was really no influence on the food side in the experience we created in our restaurant.

T: Do you have a favorite menu item?

MC: I’m partial to the carnitas. In fact, I snuck out of a meeting today and had that. I visit all these farms and know where all the ingredients come from and that’s the one I’m most proud of. It’s delicious.

Of all the proteins we serve, the difference between commodity pork and naturally-raised pork is the most dramatic. If you’ve ever been to a confinement hog operation, it is absolutely terrifying. It’s brutal, it’s unpleasant for the animals and the people working there. And the difference between that and our hogs which are raised, even if they’re not totally outdoors‚ and just deeply bedded pens, is really, really dramatic. The alternative is very grim.

T: So it feels good to eat it, then?

MC: Yeah. I think if you’re going to eat meat, that’s a pretty good one to eat. Having been to the farms and seen all the animals, I feel best about that one.

T: Does Chipotle’s growth have something to do with the rise in popularity of Mexican cuisine? Would this have been possible 30 years ago?

MC: When Chipotle started 21 years ago, Mexican food in the United States was very, very different. It was a large plate with multiple items, usually something doused in red or green chili sauce and refried beans. Chipotle introduced to the masses the San Francisco-style burrito, which even frankly those San Francisco burritos were smothered in chili sauce. So I wonder how much it’s people more interested in Mexican food, as it is Chipotle introduced them to a different kind of cuisine altogether.

T: What is the most number of times you’ve eaten at Chipotle in one week?

MC: This is probably going to be embarrassing. I’d say five times. I’ve never eaten there every single day. But you know, if you work there and you’re in the restaurant, that’s what you’re going to eat. I know our crews eat our food every day.

T: Any complaints about getting sick of it?

MC: [Laughs] Well, you know, one of the things I learned about Chipotle, which fascinated me when I first started, you need to be very careful about what you order the first time at Chipotle because most people eat that same thing for like, the next decade.

T: What’s Chipotle going to be doing differently five years from now?

MC: Our menu has stayed the same, but underneath that menu we’re constantly striving to improve each individual ingredient. Each one of them is one its own trajectory. If you went through our 25 or so primary ingredients, each one would have a path for some distant goal of where we’d like to go with it. There’s a particular path for chicken, and then for beef and then for pork and all those veggies. We’re almost rid of any ingredients on our menu that are genetically modified. When I look out five years I suspect that the menu will be pretty much the same, but the ingredients underlying will continue to transform as we go.

T: Thanks.

MC: Thank you.

MONEY freebies

Free Jamocha Shakes at Arby’s on Wednesday

Arby's restaurant sign, Central Florida.
Arby's restaurant sign, Central Florida. Ian Dagnall—Alamy

The fast food chain Arby's is turning 50, and it's celebrating by giving out free shakes

In honor of its 50th anniversary, Arby’s is giving out free Jamocha shakes on Wednesday, July 23. All customers have to do for a free frosty 310-calorie beverage is follow that link, enter a name, and print out a coupon good for a complimentary 12 oz. shake at participating Arby’s restaurants.

The shake is listed on Arby’s low-priced Snack ‘n Save menu, and depending on the location, it might cost as little as $1.09 usually. But a freebie’s a freebie.

The shake giveaway is one of several periodically offered to Arby’s customers. The chain is known for handing out free curly fries on Tax Day, April 15, and customers are lured with the promise of a free Roast Beef Classic sandwich if they’re willing to sign up to receive news about the latest Arby’s deals and promotions.

And these and other efforts to please the chain’s biggest fans and bring in new customers are part of a campaign introduced two years that included a makeover of the company logo, and its image in general. At the time, consumer surveys ranked Arby’s among the worst fast food chains. Arby’s has tried to revamp its reputation by spending millions on restaurant renovations and adding more than a dozen new items to the menu. The chain has also been attempting to get hipper, scoring a big social media success earlier this year at the Grammys, when the company Tweeted about Pharrell Williams “stealing” the oversized hat on the Arby’s logo, launching a million laughs and retweets.

Rolling out the occasional freebie should put smiles on people’s faces too.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

There’s A lot of Junk Food at the School Nutrition Conference

This year's annual conference run by the School Nutrition Association is not without politics

The 68th Annual National Conference of the School Nutrition Association is finishing up today in Boston, and it’s not go on without controversy.

Here’s some backstory: When the Obama administration revamped the school lunch requirements, they received a lot of praise and counted among their champions the School Nutrition Association. But now, the group, which is a national organization of school nutrition professionals, is heading up a lobbying campaign to let schools opt out of the requirements saying they are too restrictive and costly. (You can read in detail what the group is pushing for here.)

Many experts in the school-nutrition world are surprised by the stance the SNA has taken and some of its members have resigned, voicing criticism of SNA for accepting sponsorship money from food companies.

At the same time, Congress is considering legislation to delay by one year some of the school-lunch regulations, as the New York Times reported earlier this month.

Given the ongoing debate about school nutrition, it shouldn’t be surprising that this year’s convention—which brings together 6,000 school nutrition professionals and industry members—has been mired in politics. As Politico reported: Sam Kass, the Executive Director of Let’s Move! was even turned down when he asked to speak at the conference this year.

Though the conference has long allowed food companies to be involved, their new position on the school lunch standards have some nutrition groups and experts skeptical. And that makes the presence of fast food and junk food at the event all the more surprising.

Here are some tweets from public health lawyer Michele Simon:

To be sure, there were certainly booths with healthy food–even a great vending machine idea like this one:

So while the conference highlighted ways to get kids to eat more healthy food, it’s hard to take seriously when Cheetos and pizza are so heavily marketed.

TIME Fast Food

11 Worst Fast Food Restaurants in America

Taco Bell Beef
Doritos Locos tacos and a fountain drink are arranged for a photograph at a Taco Bell restaurant in Redondo Beach, Cali. on Oct. 4, 2013. Patrick T. Fallon—Bloomberg/Getty Images

This post is in partnership with The Fiscal Times. The article below was originally published on The Fiscal Times.

Whether they like pizza, hamburgers, chicken or sandwiches, Americans want more than just cheap meals when they eat out at fast food restaurants. The quality and freshness of the food, as well as the quality of the service, have become top priorities when choosing a spot to grab a quick bite, as shown by Consumer Reports’ most recent ranking of our nation’s fast food restaurants.

Consumer Reports surveyed more than 32,000 readers who ate more than 96,000 meals at 65 chains. The magazine found that the less ubiquitous fast food restaurants and the regional ones were the most popular with diners.

Those who were surveyed had to look at five criteria to rank each chain: food quality and freshness, value, politeness, speed of service, and cleanliness of the dining area. Based on these criteria, they then had to come up with a grade out of 100.

The top loser: Sbarro, which specializes in New York-style pizza. The chain has been doing so badly it closed more than 150 locations in North America in February and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy a month later.

Other well-known names that made the list of the worst fast food restaurants include McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.

11) Panda Express

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 73/100

The only Asian fast food chain on this list, Panda Express allegedly offers gourmet Chinese cuisine, but the quality and freshness of its food is only so-so and its dishes are too pricey, according to the survey. Meanwhile, the quality of its service fared relatively well.

10) Taco Bell

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 73/100

The best-known Mexican fast food chain in the country, Taco Bell also ranked as the worst Mexican fast food chain in America, receiving particularly bad grades for its mediocre food quality and freshness. It recently entered the breakfast market, going head to head with McDonald’s.

9) Little Caesars

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 73/100
Pizza restaurant Little Caesars, which was started in Michigan more than 50 years ago, ranked especially low on the quality and freshness of its food, despite advertising its fresh-quality ingredients.

8) Domino’s

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 73/100

Another global pizza chain ended on the worst fast food restaurant list. Domino’s fared poorly on all criteria including the quality of the food, the value of its food, the speed of its service and the cleanliness of its dining areas – but its wait staff received a relatively high mark for politeness.

7) Pizza Hut

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 73/100

One of the most famous pizza chains in the world, Pizza Hut was started by two brothers more than 55 years ago in Kansas. Now part of Yum! Brands, it has about 6,000 restaurants in the U.S.

6) CiCi’s Pizza

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 72/100

CiCi’s Pizza, which launched in the 1980s in Plano, Texas, now has about 500 restaurants in 34 states. Although the chain received bad grades for the quality of its food and the cleanliness of its restaurants, it did okay with the speed of its service and politeness of its waiting staff.

5) Burger King

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 71/100

Another burger giant chain fared poorly in the rankings, with mediocre food quality and freshness and bad value for its food. Burger King, which debuted a Gay Pride Whopper this week, has about 13,000 franchised restaurants.

4) McDonald’s

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 71/100
Every minute, McDonald’s sells Americans nearly 1,500 burgers, which it touts as being 100 percent USDA-inspected beef, free of preservatives, fillers, extenders and so-called pink slime. But none of that prevent Consumer Reports’ readers from rating its food quality and freshness as one of the worst.

3) Church’s Chicken

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 71/100
Church’s Chicken, also established in the 1950s, sells fried chicken, fries, biscuits and jalapenos. The chain, known as Texas Chicken outside the U.S., has more than 1,600 locations worldwide.

2) KFC

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 69/100
KFC’s food quality and freshness, its value, and the cleanliness of its dining area all got bad reviews. The chain, which has famously sold its fried chicken in buckets since the 1950s, has restaurants throughout the country.

1) Sbarro

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 65/100
Sbarro, which specializes in New York-style pizza, placed especially low in this year’s list because of its poor food quality and lack of freshness. The company filed for bankruptcy earlier this year – the second time it’s done so in about three years.

 

TIME Fast Food

10 Best Fast Food Restaurants in America

In-N-Out Burger As The Company Is Valued At Near $2 Billion
In-N-Out Burger's signature Double-Double cheeseburger and french fries. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

There are a few surprises on the Consumer Reports’ list this year of the best fast food restaurants in America – and a few names that are not that well known nationally.

The bottom line is that whether we’re aiming to eat pizza, burgers, chicken or grilled sandwiches, Americans want a lot more than just food on the cheap when we eat out. We care about the quality and freshness of our food; we care about the quality of the service we receive. These priorities when choosing a destination for grabbing a quick bite emerged in Consumer Reports most recent ranking of our nation’s fast food restaurants.

The magazine asked more than 32,000 readers – who ate more than 96,000 meals at 65 chains – what they thought. The less ubiquitous fast food restaurants and the regional ones were the most popular with diners.

Respondents looked at five criteria to rank each chain: food quality and freshness, value, politeness, speed of service, and cleanliness of the dining area. Based on these criteria, they had to come up with a grade out of 100.

The top winner: In-N-Out Burger, which has a cult following of fans from across the country. Its restaurants are only available in a handful of states, mostly on the West Coast, which means that for many Americans, vacationing in California often includes paying a visit to an In-N-Out Burger restaurant.

Other names that made the list of the best fast food restaurants include Chick-fil-A and Potbelly Sandwich Shop, but most of the other chains on the list aren’t that well known.

“You’ll find many fine national (defined as operating in six or more states) and regional restaurants,” noted Consumer Reports.

10) Culver’s

Consumer Reports Grade: 84/100

Started in Wisconsin in the 1980s, Culver’s, which offers fresh frozen custard and burgers, is still predominantly in the Midwest but has also expanded into Texas. Culver’s also features its own brand of root beer. Politeness of its staffs and dining-area cleanliness were among its highlights.

9) Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill

Consumer Reports Grade: 84/100

Rubio’s, which was founded in California in the 1980s, offers Mexican food using fresh sustainable seafood with an emphasis on tacos. The company operates 190 locations in California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Nevada. Noteworthy for Rubio’s: quality of the food, its staffs’ politeness, and cleanliness of dining areas.

8) Potbelly Sandwich Shop

Consumer Reports Grade: 84/100

Another fast food chain that specializes in subs, Potbelly, which was founded in Chicago in 1977, has locations in 23 states. It often has local musicians performing live at a Potbelly Sandwich Shop – whose staffs’ politeness helped it earn this spot on the list.

7) Firehouse Subs

Consumer Reports Grade: 84/100

Founded just 20 years ago in Jacksonville, Florida, by former firefighters, Firehouse Subs specializes in hot subs and also offers subs and salads under 500 calories. It has more than 700 restaurants in 36 states. It earned this spot on the list because of its staffs’ politeness and the cleanliness of its dining areas.

6) Chick-Fil-A

Consumer Reports Grade: 85/100

Chick-fil-A, which is headquartered in Atlanta and specializes in chicken sandwiches, made the news three years ago because of its opposition to same-sex marriage legislation – but it also made the Consumer Reports list of the best fast food restaurants in America for the quality of its food and of its service.

5) Jason’s Deli

Consumer Reports Grade: 85/100

Founded in Texas in 1976, Jason’s Deli offers a deli-style menu with sandwiches, salads and soups. It boasts 240 locations across 28 states. In the last decade, the company has eliminated trans fats, high fructose corn syrup and MSG from all of its food. It rated highly for its food quality, politeness of its staff, and the cleanliness of its dining areas.

4) The Habit Burger Grill

Consumer Reports Grade: 86/100

The Habit Burger Grill was started in California in 1969 and like In-N-Out Burger, it has remained on the small side, with only 100 locations in California, Arizona and Utah. Food quality, politeness of staff, and cleanliness all rated high for this restaurant.

3) Portillo’s Hot Dogs

Consumer Reports Grade: 87/100

Portillo’s specializes in Chicago-style hot dogs and sandwiches. It has less than 50 locations, mostly in the Chicago area, as well as in Arizona and California, but you can order some items online. Like the other winners on this list, its food quality, politeness of staff, and cleanliness of its dining areas stood out.

2) Papa Murphy’s Take N’Bake Pizza

Consumer Reports Grade: 88/100

Papa Murphy’s, which ranks as the best pizza fast food restaurant in the country in this list, is actually a take-and-bake pizzeria. Customers order their pizza in the store but take it home to bake, reducing the restaurant’s costs significantly. The company, which has more than 1,400 locations in the U.S., went public in May, and is noted for the quality of its food, politeness of its staff, and the speed of its service.

1) In-N-Out Burger

Consumer Reports Grade: 88/100

One of the cruelest April Fool’s jokes to New Yorkers a few years ago was the announcement by an anonymous prankster that In-N-Out Burger was going to open a location in the Big Apple. The top burger chain in the country, however, actually wants to remain small and confines itself to the West Coast. The quality of its food helped it win this highly coveted spot.

 

TIME Fast Food

Pizza Hut Is Now Selling Giant Cookies Cut Like Pizza

Pizza Hut's Cookie Pizza
Pizza Hut's Cookie Pizza Pizza Hut/Yum!

A new dessert item

Pizza Hut’s menu just got a little sweeter. The pizza chain will begin delivering giant chocolate chip cookies sliced up like their famous pies on Monday.

Pizza Hut teased the new menu item on its Facebook page Sunday night.

The cookie, formally named the “Ultimate Hershey’s Chocolate Chip Cookie” will cost $4.99 with a pizza and $5.99 alone, the Chicago Tribune reports, and serves about 8. On Wenesday, 10% of each cookie’s sale will go to the World Food Programme during a nation-wide “bake sale.”

“Millennials tell us it’s what they want,” Carrie Walsh, chief marketing officer at Pizza Hut, told USA Today of the new pizza cookie. “They like to cap off a great pizza with a great dessert.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Nearly 60% Of People Use Nutrition Info on Menus

a fast food tray full of hamburgers
A CDC report shows nearly 6 out of 10 people use menu labels Sian Kennedy

New report suggests people are paying attention to menu labels

A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows 57% of U.S. adults over 18 use menu labeling information like calorie counts to make their orders.

The researchers looked at surveys from 17 states and found that women were more likely to use menu labels, and that labeling helps customers pick lower-calorie options. A 2010 federal law requires restaurants that have at least 20 locations to list calorie information on their menus (though regulations to implement the law have still not been finalized).

The new study is important, because it shows that Americans actually do care about menu labels, though perhaps only by a slight majority. Several earlier studies have shown the opposite. For instance, a 2012 study concluded calorie listings would have little impact on the obesity epidemic. Another 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, examined the receipts of 1,100 McDonald’s diners. Some of the participants were given calorie information as well as education about how many calories are recommended for men and women and others were given no information. Both groups ate more than the recommended amount of calories, and there were no differences between the groups, suggesting people underestimate what they’re eating, even with calorie numbers.

All of which means that while it’s great consumers are looking at calorie counts, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are acting on the information.

There are a few criticisms of nutrition labeling in fast food restaurants. Two Johns Hopkins obesity experts wrote an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine last year arguing that without any context, people have no idea how many calories they should be eating, making the data essentially meaningless. Some researchers have suggested that health authorities use other measurements, like how much physical activity it would take to burn off a 550 calorie burger. Finally, a focus on calories, say some experts, misses the point, since a small Coke could have the same calories as a handful of almonds, though to say they are the same nutritionally would be absurd.

The researchers conclude that the data could help create more targeted health communication strategies that could help up awareness for menu labels and benefit Americans. With more education, diners may at least realize just how much junk is their fast food.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Processed Food Hurts Your Immune System—And Your Kids’ Too

Poor dietary habits get passed down in DNA

Society’s over-indulgence on foods full of sugar, salt and fat may be ruining our immune systems, a new study says.

A study published in Nutrition Journal looked at the impact the Western diet and lifestyle has on people’s immune function. It found that the large number of calories in processed and fast food may lead to health problems such as increased inflammation, reduced control of infection, increased rates of cancer, and increased risk for allergic and auto-inflammatory disease.

And we’re not only harming ourselves. The study authors point to research that poor dietary choices get “encoded” into both DNA scaffolding and into the gut microbiome, meaning that food and lifestyle choices can permanently change the balance of bacteria in our bodies and can weaken the immune system. It also means those changes can be passed onto offspring.

The study’s author, Dr. Ian Myles, says he was surprised by how heavily gut bacteria determined a child’s health. “Our bodies are a kind of mini-ecosystem, and anything that disturbs our bacteria can alter our health in profound ways,” he adds.

Myles, a doctor at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the only way for people to avoid these immune effects is to improve their diets.

“Things that most people know—but do not feel confident in their ability to accomplish right now: eliminate processed sugars, eliminating homogenized fats,” he said. “I always tell people there’s a big difference between fat in a piece of fish or meat, and eating fat as a part of processed foods.”

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