The late-night crowd knows all too well the allure of Taco Bell's piping-hot creations. But is it really ground beef they're putting in that beef meximelt?
That's the question at the heart of a lawsuit filed recently by the Montgomery, Alabama-based law firm Beasley Allen.
The standard for what constitutes beef as defined by the USDA is pretty straightforward: "flesh of animals." In the "Food Facts" section of its website, Taco Bell says the following about its beef: "Our taco meat is made from USDA-inspected beef and is subjected to quality check points. It tastes great because it's simmered in 12 authentic seasonings and spices and is never frozen. Moreover, our taco meat is leaner than what you'll find in a restaurant-cooked hamburger because of the unique way that we prepare our taco meat and remove fat." But Beasley Allen contends that the company's claims are untrue.
"Rather than beef, these food items are actually made with a substance known as 'taco meat filling,' " the lawsuit says. The firm contends that that Taco Bell shouldn't market the taco meat filling in question as beef because their testing shows that it only contains 36 percent ground beef. If that's true, Taco Bell's meat filling product would fall below the already generous USDA standard for it to qualify as meat -- the present standard demands it consist of at least 40 percent meat. This inspired Gizmodo's Jesus Diaz to crack, "Perhaps they should call it 'Almost Taco Meat Filling.'"
The remainder of the Taco Bell's meat filling product consists of "extenders" like water, "Isolated Oat Product," wheat oats, maltodrextrin, soy lecithin, maltodrextrin, anti-dusting agent, autolyzed yeast extract, modified corn starch, sodium phosphate and silicon dioxide.
Taco Bell actually addresses its use if silicon dioxide in the "Food Facts" section of its website under the question, "I heard a rumor that there's sand in your taco meat?" It then goes on to explain that silicone dioxide is "a safe, common food ingredient" that's "primarily used in food to prevent ingredients from sticking together."
Taco Bell has issued a statement insisting that the suit is unfounded: "Taco Bell prides itself on serving high quality Mexican inspired food with great value. We're happy that the millions of customers we serve every week agree. We deny our advertising is misleading in any way and we intend to vigorously defend the suit."
In any event, the lawsuit's appetite-squelching accusations are likely to provide plenty of unadulterated fodder for late night comedians. "Late Show with David Letterman" head writer Eric Stangel was already making Taco Bell jokes on his Twitter page this morning, cracking that because of the lawsuit we're all finally "about to find out where the Taco Bell Chihuahua went."