Veggie Burgers Might Not Be So Healthy After All

A recent analysis has demonstrated that vegetarian burgers have a higher rate of food quality issues than their beefy counterparts.

Food analytics organization Clear Labs examined 258 samples of burgers from 79 brands and 22 retailers. While all of the patties were obtained in California, the types of samples were varied and included frozen, fresh, meat, and vegetarian patties as well as samples from fast-food restaurants and higher-end establishments.

Contamination and hygiene issues were "fairly evenly distributed" throughout the patties, regardless of how expensive they were.

"One piece of good news that came out of [the study] was that the rate of serious problems was lower than we anticipated in such a high-risk category," says Clear Labs co-founder Mahni Ghorashi, according to Eater.

Regarding the more serious issues detected in the samples, 13.6 percent of the meat patties had issues such as missing ingredients, pathogens, product substitutions, and hygiene problems. Furthermore, 23.6 percent of the vegetarian samples demonstrated these severe problems, almost twice that of the meat samples.

"Consumers tend to move to veggie burgers as a safer alternative but in reality there are potentially high risks in that category," explained Ghorashi. "In that category we found things like [two instances of] beef in veggie burgers, and a black bean burger that had no black beans in it whatsoever."

In 16 samples, substitutions consisted of ingredients observed that weren’t on the ingredients label, such as rye, beef DNA, and pork DNA. All of the 14 samples that were missing ingredients were vegetarian samples. About 4 percent of the products contained pathogens, including a vegetarian product that tested positive for E. coli. Three samples contained rat DNA, which is “probably not that dangerous for you,” as stated by food safety experts.

"Safe cooking is the one thing that's in the control of the consumer — as long as you cook it properly, you likely won't get sick because you'd at least be eating cooked rat DNA," said Shelley Feist, executive director of Temperature Partnership for Food Safety. "The element might still be in the food, but the bacteria and pathogens will be killed."

Interestingly enough, the biggest problem observed in the food samples, as stated by the researchers, was nutrition.

"There is a significant delta between the amount of calories, fat, and carbs you thought you were consuming, and the amounts actually in the burgers," explained Ghorashi.