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Is that a real egg on your fast food breakfast sandwich? Panera wants you to know

You might take it for granted that you know what an egg is, but Panera Bread wants the government to create a crystal clear definition for the food.

After releasing a new line of breakfast sandwiches they're marketing as containing "100% real eggs," the restaurant chain is petitioning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to define what makes an egg an egg.

The move might just be a clever marketing tactic, but it turns out that a lot of eggs in popular egg sandwiches do contain extra ingredients many consumers might not know they're eating.

Getty Images/Panera

“Brands can say they offer an egg sandwich, but sell an egg product that contains multiple additives,” said Sara Burnett, Panera’s director of wellness and food policy in a news release. Panera says their sandwiches use only freshly cracked eggs or egg whites with no additives.

Plenty of chains offer egg sandwiches and egg products as part of their morning menus, but they often contain hard-to-pronounce fillers or stabilizers.

According to Starbucks’ nutritional information, their bacon, gouda and egg breakfast sandwich uses a frittata egg patty that contains soybean oil and water, as well as unmodified corn starch, xanthan gum, citric acid and powdered cellulose.

And Burger King’s breakfast menu describes their “eggs” as a “liquid egg-pasteurized mixture,” made with whole eggs, water, xanthan gum, citric acid, medium chain triglycerides and more.

Burger King
Burger King's Croissan'wich is the chain's signature breakfast sandwich.

McDonald’s, on the other hand, has often touted the fact that it uses freshly-cracked eggs on its Egg McMuffin, separating itself from the rest of the pack. But does it really matter?

“The main question is whether eggs enriched with other ingredients, even nutrient-rich ones, like milk, should still legally be called eggs,” Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD, health and nutrition editor for NBC News, told TODAY Food.

According to a U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) document, an egg substitute cannot contain egg yolks. The FSIS defines “egg products” as eggs that have been removed from their shells for processing that may include whole eggs, whites, yolks and various blends, with or without added non-egg ingredients.” So, right now, as long as whole eggs are included, it still qualifies as an egg. But are these additional ingredients bad for you?

“These are all safe to eat,” Fernstrom told TODAY Food, after looking over the additional ingredients used in sandwiches from both Starbucks and Burger King. However, she added that “certainly, the gold standard for optimal nutrition and taste is a whole, fresh egg.”

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How to make Martha Stewart's perfectly cooked eggs

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How to make Martha Stewart's perfectly cooked eggs

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Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of Better Than Dieting and author of "Read It Before You Eat It" agreed. “The closest you can get to eating food that is like something you would have in your own refrigerator, the better,” she told TODAY, advising consumers to seek out nutritional information online and educate themselves about how to find healthier breakfast options ... and how to avoid the worst fast food breakfasts.

So should people we worried about preservatives at all? The real issue lies in just having transparency around what you're eating, say experts.

"Certain preservatives (not listed in the Starbucks and Burger King items, but possibly in other egg sandwiches), like MSG and sulfites, can cause severe reactions in some people," Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, told TODAY Food over email. "The bottom line is that when you get an egg sandwich, you probably just want the egg, and not all the other junk that may be in there."

Taub-Dix added that the bigger hazard may really be what else is on that fast food sandwich.

“What I think is a problem with a lot of these breakfast sandwiches is not just the egg, it’s the company it keeps,” she explains. “If it also has bacon, cheese and mayonnaise, that is a problem for breakfast.”

If you are looking for a healthier morning meal, TODAY Food has some easy breakfast swaps to help you replace high-calorie fast food meals.

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