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February 19, 2006

McDonald's-gate and the French Fry Cover-Up

Topics: News Summary

mcdonalds_french_fries.jpgThe french fry scandal hit international news with the revelation that McDonald's has been lacing its fries with a potential undislcosed allergen:

McDonald's faces at least three lawsuits claiming it misled the public after it acknowledged last week that milk and wheat ingredients are used to flavour its fries.

One claimant, Debra Moffatt, is seeking unspecified damages in a lawsuit filed in Chicago. Her lawyer, Thomas Pakenas, said his client has coeliac disease, which causes gastrointestinal symptoms set off by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat.

"You cannot sell gluten-free french fries when they have gluten," Pakenas said.

In Celiac Disease, damage to the mucosal surface of the small intestine is caused by an immunologically toxic reaction to the ingestion of gluten and interferes with the absorption of nutrients. Since the trigger is limited to gluten, individuals suffering from the disease simply make sure they eat gluten free foods.

The disclosure that McDonald's french fries are flavored with wheat products is not all that surprising. From a website marketed to children with Celiac Disease we find the following statement:

But did you know that battered foods like fried chicken and even some French fries contain gluten? Pasta also contains gluten because it is made from wheat. Luckily, you can make or buy gluten-free pizza crust, make fried chicken with a gluten-free batter, and find gluten-free pasta and French fries. In fact, nearly all of the foods we eat can be made gluten-free.
The problem McDonald's faces is explaining why in February of 2004 (via the internet archive) the nutritional label for its french fries did not list wheat among its ingredients:
French Fries: Potatoes, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, natural flavor (beef source), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (to preserve natural color). Cooked in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (may contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil and/or partially hydrogenated corn oil and/or partially hydrogenated canola oil and/or cottonseed oil and/or sunflower oil and/or corn oil). TBHQ and citric acid added to help preserve freshness. Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an anti-foaming agent.
The same is true for February of 2005. However, today, the same nutritional label reads (emphasis mine):
French Fries: Potatoes, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, natural flavor (beef, wheat and dairy sources), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (to preserve natural color). Breading set in vegetable oil. Cooked in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (may contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil and/or partially hydrogenated corn oil and/or partially hydrogenated canola oil and/or cottonseed oil and/or sunflower oil and/or corn oil). Contains wheat and milk ingredients.
Oversight or not, unless the change in the nutritional label reflects a change in the ingredients, McDonald's has a problem.

Updates: It Gets Worse

In 2005, the McDonald's USA Food Allergens and Sensitivities Listing said that French fries were Gluten (and dairy) free:

gluten_free_french_fries.gif

Today, the story has changed:

gluten_french_fries.gif

From the Free Republic:

Until recently, the company had said its fries were free of gluten and milk or wheat allergens and safe for people with dietary issues related to the consumption of dairy items. But this month, the fast-food company quietly added "Contains wheat and milk ingredients" to the french fries listing on its website.

The company said the move came in response to new rules by the US Food and Drug Administration for the packaged foods industry, including one requiring that the presence of common allergens such as milk, eggs, wheat, fish or peanuts be reported. As a restaurant operator, the Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald's does not have to comply but is doing so voluntarily.


Bloggers:

Mistresninos - Huge discussion on the Celiac list today about Micky D's fries and how they are no longer gluten free...scary when you think about how they are supposed to be potatoes

Sprouts ~ An Chlann McGrath (written before McDonald's disclosure):

... As it turned out, the little boy is also on a gluten-free/casein-free diet, which is why his mother chose McDonald's.

The restaurant's website provides a list of safe foods for people with gluten sensitivity in their Food, Nutrition, and Fitness section (made me laugh.) I'm going to print out a copy for the car so we can eat when we're on the road.

The girls and I shared a large french fries on the way home. They were warm.


Posted by tim at February 19, 2006 11:25 PM



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