McDonald's advertised the chicken fajita as containing 2.5 grams of saturated fat but, on at least one occasion, the fast-food chain served up the dish with 4.32 grams -- about 75 per cent more than the amount of bad fat it claimed.

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McDonald's chicken fajita.

PHOTOS BY JOHN MAJOR / POSTMEDIA NEWS

McDonald's chicken fajita.

McDonald's advertised the chicken fajita as containing 2.5 grams of saturated fat but, on at least one occasion, the fast-food chain served up the dish with 4.32 grams -- about 75 per cent more than the amount of bad fat it claimed.

At one KFC location, the chicken strips packed in a total fat count of 19.37 grams, not 12 as stated by the company.

And Taco Bell's fresco soft taco was supposed to contain just 0.2 grams of trans fat -- a fatty acid consumers try to avoid because it raises the blood levels of the so-called "bad" cholesterol. But a test found the level to be 3.5 times greater at one outlet, where a taco weighed in with 0.7 grams of trans fat.

These standard bearers of formulaic food assembly aren't the only chain restaurants whose products have sometimes failed government tests of the accuracy of nutrition claims. According to Canadian Food Inspection Agency results released exclusively to Postmedia News after an access-to-information request, Panago Pizza, Greco Pizza and other chains have all posted at least one "unsatisfactory" test result.

This means the numerical values they declared for fat, sodium or calories for a menu item were off the mark by at least 20 per cent. (CFIA allows a margin of 20 per cent to account for natural variations among ingredients.)

The CFIA monitoring tests were conducted between 2007 and 2009, after some quick-service restaurants started voluntarily posting nutrition numbers for standard menu items on their websites.

As public-health advocates and legislators push chain restaurants to post nutrition information on menu boards so customers can get nutritional data before ordering, the results beg the question: Can consumers trust what the companies tell them?

In most cases, CFIA didn't share its results with the companies. They were first informed of their numbers by Postmedia News.

The restaurants say they take their job of providing accurate information very seriously, but deviations or over-portioning can sometimes occur in large franchise operations -- a fact they publicize on their websites. Some companies also question the validity of the testing.

To determine whether nutritional claims -- or "declared values" -- held up at individual restaurants across large franchise operations, inspectors purchased three of the same item at the same location and sent the food to CFIA laboratories.

There, technicians using internationally recognized methods developed by the Association of Analytical Chemists ground up the food items to give CFIA a homogenized sample from the same lot.

"For us to get some surveillance, some background information on how well they're doing, three is sufficient," Stan Bacler, CFIA's national manager of laboratory operations, told Postmedia News.

In some areas, the results were good. For example, the CFIA tested the amount of sodium in 10 items. Only one -- a portion of Salvatore's Hawaiian pizza -- was saltier than claimed.

Fat content was a different story.

Of 33 samples from 17 restaurants, only 19 met the standard.

 

-- Postmedia News