While much attention was focused last week on the announcement from three consumer groups that they were petitioning the federal government to require fast-food companies to provide ingredient labeling on their products, it will be a long time until regulations -- if any -- are passed. In the meantime, the question remains: What facts can you find out now?
While many chains are reluctant to divulge complete ingredient listings of their products -- for proprietary reasons, they say -- they will identify those menu items that contain ingredients to which some people are allergic. If you are sensitive to MSG, for example, they will tell you which items it's in, and practically all of them publish nutritional booklets, which identify the calorie, sodium, fat, cholesterol, protein and carbohydrate contents of their food. Here's where to inquire:
Arby's: Ingredients in the chain's roast beef are already provided on posters in its stores, as well as on the roast beef sandwich wrapper itself, according to Pat Snyder, marketing communications manager. They are: beef, water, salt and sodium phosphate. A complete list of Arby's menu items' ingredients is provided in Volume 12 of the Center for Science in the Public Interest's Nutrition Action newsletter, and Snyder said the company would send such information directly to consumers upon request. For information on ingredients, call the company's consumer affairs department at 404-262-2729 or write Arby's Consumer Affairs Dept., Suite 700, 10 Piedmont Center, 3495 Piedmont Rd. NE, Atlanta, Ga. 30305. The company also publishes a nutrition brochure, which can be obtained at the above address.
Burger King: According to company spokesman Ben Morse, the chain publishes a nutrition guide that lists the basic ingredients of its products, although it does not include more specific information such as the milk solids in the chain's Whaler fish sandwich or the corn sugar in its french fries. It does state the type of oil used for frying (for the french fries and Whaler sandwich: 93 percent beef tallow, seven percent vegetable oil). Morse added that if ingredient information is what consumers "need to know," the company would be willing to put that information in its nutrition booklet. In the meantime, Morse said Burger King will provide consumers with any information about product contents, including complete ingredient listings. Call 305-596-7320. For a copy of the company's current nutrition booklet, write: Burger King Corp., Public Relations Department, Burger King Nutrition Guide, 7360 N. Kendell Dr., Miami, Fla. 33156.
Hardees: The company (which recently acquired Burger Chef and will be converting those stores to Hardees) will divulge specific ingredients only based on individual requests. Call 919-977-2000 and ask for the menu development department, or write: 1233 N. Church St., Rocky Mount, N.C. 27801. Hardees also publishes a nutritional analysis guide that can be obtained from the above address.
Kentucky Fried Chicken: For inquiries regarding specific ingredients, call 502-456-8607 or write Kentucky Fried Chicken, Consumer Affairs Dept. P.O. Box 32070, Louisville, Ky. 40232. A nutrition guide can be obtained by writing to the above address.
Long John Silver's: Company spokesman Bruce Hinton says the company uses only polyunsaturated vegetable oils. For specifics on other ingredients, Hinton said the company "might" be willing to provide the information to consumers. For a nutrition information brochure, write: Long John Silver's Inc., Vice President, Food and Beverage, P.O. Box 11988. Lexington, Ky. 40579. For other inquiries, call 606-268-5211.
McDonald's: For inquiries regarding specific ingredients, call Customer Relations at 312-887-6198 or write: McDonald's Customer Relations Dept., One McDonald's Plaza, Oak Brook, Ill. 60521. The company also publishes diabetic and food exchange information and a nutritional breakdown of all its products, which can be obtained from the above address. McDonald's uses beef tallow to fry its french fries and, according to CSPI, uses yellow dye no. 5 in various products, such as milkshakes, strawberry sundae topping and hotcake mix.
Roy Rogers: For information on specific ingredients, write: Mary Maguire, Marriott Corp., Marriott Drive, Washington D.C. 20058. For the booklet "The Guide to Good Eating in Roy Rogers," which lists the nutritional breakdown of the chain's products, write to the address above.
Wendy's: For information about specific ingredients, call consumer relations at 614-764-3100 or write: Wendy's International, Consumer Relations, P.O. Box 256, Dublin, Ohio. 43017. For a nutritional breakdown booklet, write to Wendy's at the above address.