Just like our waistlines, our love of quick, cheap and easy meals just keeps growing. Last year we ate our way through 284 million beef burgers -- that's 12 burgers each for every man, woman and child. They are so popular it's the biggest rise in consumption across any food group.
But what's really in them? We put seven of the most popular hamburgers on the market to the test -- from McDonald's to Hungry Jack's and even an independent takeaway burger shop -- using a government accredited lab to compare the fat and salt content of each meat pattie, even bacteria content..
"Hamburgers are a particularly good food specimen to look at because they are difficult to keep them safe for human consumption. Very thorough cooking is essential", said Microbiologist Cheryl Power who analysed the results.
"The lab looked for four important bacterial pathogens or disease producing bacteria, including ecoli, solmonella and listeria -- the hamburgers are all safe to eat", Cheryl said.
Dietician Melanie McGrice then chewed through the results. "I was particularly surprised about the fact that some of these hamburgers that are advertising as healthier, weren't necessarily", Melanie said.
"The highest fat content per pattie was the McDonald's Angus Burger with 22gm of fat. But if you have a look at the McDonald's Big Mac, it actually has 2 patties, so it is the winner with 24 grams of fat of patties in total. The other thing you have to remember is that this is just talking about the patties, we're not considering here the fat in the cheese and the sauces, which is going to increase the fat content again", Melanie said.
"Huge -- definitely more than we would need to eat in a whole day", she added.
But it's not all bad news for hamburger lovers. "The lowest fat content was actually the McDonald's Cheeseburger with 6 g of fat, followed closely by the Hungry Jack's Cheeseburger which had 7 g of fat and the reason why they have so much less in those patties is because they are so much smaller", Melanie said.
Melanie says stick to one patty, "Otherwise you are defeating the purpose", she said.
When McDonald's released their Grand Angus Burger it was the most successful launch of all time for the burger chain, with weekly sales estimated at over $2 million.
The premium burger boasting better quality and cut of meat helped drive the demand and Hungry Jack's soon followed suit. But how do they compare to the other, less expensive burgers?
Our results found an added ingredient you can't see. The Hungry Jack's Angus Burger actually contains and remember this is just the meat pattie alone -- 9 grams of salt that's a lot. "An extraordinary amount, especially when cheese is really high in salt as well as the bread roll", Melanie said.
"Salt is a natural preservative -- it helps to strengthen the flavour of the meat and cheese", she added.
Four of the meat patties tested exceeded the daily allowance of salt:
Hungry Jack's Angus Burger
Hungry Jack's Whopper
McDonald's Angus Burger
"We actually need about 1 gram of salt a day for good health and the Government recommends you don't have more than four. You can get your whole daily intake with one burger if you choose unwisely", Professor Neal said.
McDonalds has already reduced the sugar content in their buns by 40% but Professor Bruce Neal, from the Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health, is calling on fast-food giants to put high salt warnings on some of their burgers. "I think industry does have a responsibility to provide healthier foods. High salt isn't going to kill you instantly, but what it's going to do is push up your blood pressure throughout your life and hugely increase the risk of stroke and heart attack, the leading causes of death in Australia", Professor Neal said.
For the record, the big chains were mostly healthier than the corner shop hamburger pattie. It had the third highest levels of fat at nearly 14 grams and was high in salt too at more than 7 grams.
"The lowest fat pattie was actually 17% fat -- now something that's less than 3% is what we call low fat and so these are all extraordinarily high in fat.. You can actually buy some low fat lean mince -- that's about 5% fat -- so the best thing to do would be to go to your local butcher, get some nice lean meat and make your own patties", Melanie said.
"And a wholemeal bun with lots of salad. I'm actually really disappointed with the amount of salad that are in these hamburgers -- even the ones that are advertised as being packed full of salad, really you've only got a few lettuce leaves, onion and one slice of tomato", she added.
That information and the full results from our lab tests can be found on our website, www.yahoo7.com.au/todaytonight
McDonald's Big Mac - has 2 patties
Fat 11.9g (each pattie)
Hungry Jack's Cheeseburger
McDonalds Angus Burger
Hungry Jacks Angus Burger
Hungry Jack's Whopper