Worms as "Filler" in Fast Food

From the Mailbag

Mealworms. Thomas Northcut/Getty Images

Dear Urban Legends:

I was just looking at all the Taco Bell cockroach stories, and I recently heard a new version. Taco Bell is supposedly allowed by the FDA to put mealworms into their beef products, because:

1. Mealworms are cheaper than beef.

2. Mealworms contain less fat and calories than beef.

By doing this they can supposedly keep the cost of the product down and also control the fat and calorie content.

True or false?

Dear Reader:

Mealworms? Really? You're not just pulling my leg?

It has been rumored for years, you know, that various fast food and burger chains (including McDonald's) use earthworms as filler in their ground beef. Apparently some people actually believe this, but if you look up the per-pound prices of various types of worms it just doesn't make good business sense.

When last I checked, for example, the going rate for earthworms in U.S. dollars was around $20.00 per pound — that's bulk, no delivery! It's at least five times what you'd spend on ground beef at the supermarket; probably seven or eight times what a fast food restaurant pays.

Mealworms are no bargain, either. I found an outfit in England called Live Foods Direct that stocks the critters in bulk for upwards of $10 a pound. Feel free to comparison shop, but I doubt you're going to find a better price than that anywhere.

If anything, mealworms ought to be promoted as a fancy gourmet food item, not a cheap substitute for ground beef. As a matter of fact, I'm told they make an excellent addition to chocolate chip cookies, something I'll bet Neiman Marcus never thought of.