Sue's Blog

Maccas burgers ditch nasty additives in the US – but what about Australia?


In September 2018 McDonald’s in the US announced they were removing artificial preservatives from 7 of their classic burgers including Big Mac.

The only problem was the pickle, still made with an artificial preservative, and customers could ask for those to be removed.

Why did they remove these additives?

I was pleased to see that the explanation in Forbes magazine included a mention of my bread preservative study published in 2002:

The buns will no longer have the artificial preservative calcium propionate… McDonald’s may be getting rid of it because previous research found that this preservative could negatively affect children’s behavior. The study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, showed that calcium propionate might cause “irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbance in some children.” … removing the preservative could reverse these behavioral problems.”

So what’s happening in Australia?

At that time, Macca’s wouldn’t confirm whether they’d be following the US in their pledge to ditch artificial preservatives, colours and flavours.

“In Australia, we’re taking steps to remove artificial colours, flavours and preservatives from our menu wherever possible” a McDonald’s Australia spokeswoman was quoted as saying

Two and half years later, has anything changed in the number of additives in a Big Mac? 








2 (avoidable)



2 (avoidable)

5 (maybe 7)

Australia’s one possible change …according to the nutrition list, cheese with sorbic acid (200) and annatto 160b has been replaced in some cases by cheese with beta carotene (160a, failsafe) and capsanthin (160c). However, in some cases the cheese may still contain 160b annatto and 200 sorbic acid. So how do you know what you are getting?  

Additives to avoid still permitted in Australia’s Big Mac

Bun - preservative 282 (calcium propionate)
Sauce - preservative 202 (potassium sorbate), preservative 211(sodium benzoate)
Cheese - preservative 200 sorbic acid (maybe), 160b annatto (maybe)
Pickles - 202 (potassium sorbate), 211 (sodium benzoate)

Macca’s ingredients  accessed 9/4/2021
List of nasty additives

Food worse in  Australia?

Families moving from the UK and Europe have been telling us for years that their children’s behaviour is worse here due to more additives in Australian food. But does this mean that Australia is now overtaking the US as having the worst - most highly processed and additive-laden - diet in the world???

More info

Why McDonald's Got Rid Of Artificial Additives In Its Burgers From Forbes 27/9/2018

McDonald’s in the US makes move to ditch artificial preservatives, colours and flavours - MCDONALD’S in the US has made a big announcement about the content of their burgers, but if you’re expecting the fast food giant to follow suit down under, don’t hold your breath. From 27/9/2018

Dengate, S. and A. Ruben (2002). "Controlled trial of cumulative behavioural effects of a common bread preservative." J Paediatr Child Health 38(4): 373-6. "CONCLUSIONS: Irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbance in some children may be caused by a preservative in healthy foods consumed daily. Minimizing the concentrations added to processed foods would reduce adverse reactions. Testing for behavioural toxicity should be included in food additive safety evaluation.

Introduction to food intolerance