McDonald’s Being Sued for Previously Undisclosed Allergens in Its French Fries

Only last week, it was reported ( 2/14) that, as a result of  McDonald’s decision to conform (voluntarily) to new federal food-labeling guidelines, it had admitted that its French fries contain “wheat and milk ingredients,”  which may cause allergic reactions in people with sensitivity to these substances. The fast-food chain had previously claimed that its fries were free of such allergens.

Since neither the ingredients in its French fries nor in their preparation have changed, the announcement has annoyed both critics of the fast-food giant’s disclosure policies and people with food allergies. To them, McDonald’s revelation was driven by legal concerns rather than by a desire to be truthful with the public. 

The news was particularly worrisome for people who are sensitive to these particular allergens and those with celiac disease, which is an autoimmune condition produced by gluten (a protein found in barley, wheat, and rye).

Mc Donald’s, however, maintains that its fries are safe and do not contain such by-products. The company states that the French fries have a “natural flavoring” made from “extracts” of wheat and dairy products; however, processing is designed to remove wheat and dairy proteins.

Wheat and dairy proteins are responsible for triggering a wide variety of allergies or food-sensitivity problems.

Prior to this announcement McDonald’s had claimed the flavoring was safe for people with food allergies and other dietary sensitivities (such as “people with gluten sensitivity”). On its Web site the fries were described as being gluten-free, dairy-free, and free of wheat “allergens.”

The new FDA food-labeling rules that took effect January 1, apply to packaged foods, but not to restaurant meals, and require labels to acknowledge the presence of common allergens like milk, eggs, wheat, fish, or peanuts. Thus, McDonald’s compliance is voluntary.

While those with food allergies who have been eating McDonald’s French Fries without incident are probably not in any danger if they continue to do so, a spokesperson for the company stated: “If someone is really sensitive, they need to be aware that this product was at one point derived from wheat and dairy.”

Now, it appears that McDonald’s announcement may truly have been prompted by more than a concern for the public’s well being.

Several news services are reporting that there are at least three lawsuits in the U.S. in which McDonald’s is being sued for injuries to people who suffered adverse allergic reactions to the previously undisclosed ingredients.

One lawsuit involves a woman in Illinois with celiac disease whose condition is set off by eating gluten. She claims to have suffered heightened gastrointestinal symptoms after eating McDonald’s French fries.

A Los Angeles woman, who is a vegan, is also suing claiming that she would not have eaten the fries if she had known of the undisclosed dairy ingredients.

The third lawsuit involves a five-year-old Florida girl, with a gluten intolerance, who is alleged to have become seriously ill from eating the fries.

(Sources: Archives 2/14/06 and CBC News 2/19/06)

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