Skip to comments.Allergy causes french fry quandary
Posted on 02/18/2006 9:25:40 AM PST by indcons
CHICAGO -- When a neighbor told Garmit Kaur that McDonald's had listed wheat -- a taboo for her two children with food allergies -- as an ingredient in its french fries, she flat-out didn't believe it.
"I was shocked when I checked the Web site this morning," said the mother from Elmhurst, Ill. "I thought, that cannot be right because I'm very careful ... and it wasn't there a couple months ago."
But there was no mistake. At the end of a long list -- including partially hydrogenated soybean oil and dextrose -- was the single offending line: "Contains wheat and milk ingredients."
To parents like Kaur, french fries had been one of the few "safe" items on fast-food menus. But this week, McDonald's acknowledged that a flavoring agent in the cooking oil used to make fries is derived from wheat and dairy ingredients, which are off-limits to those with food allergies.
Still, physicians say there is no need to set off alarm bells yet.
The disclosure doesn't automatically put McDonald's fries on the verboten list, according to Dr. Stefano Guandalini, a pediatric gastroenterologist with the University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Program. The disease, which affects 3 million Americans, interferes with the absorption of nutrients and is triggered by consumption of gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
"When you process the ingredients such as wheat in order to derive flavoring, you leave the gluten behind," Guandalini explained, comparing it to vinegar, another product from grains that is neutralized by the distillation process. "We have never found any evidence that eating french fries is a problem."
The wheat and dairy disclosure, coming less than a week after McDonald's acknowledged its fries contain more trans fats than previously reported, was a consequence of a new labeling rule by the Food and Drug Administration that went into effect in January.
The measure requires the packaged-foods industry to report all common allergens, such as milk, eggs, wheat, fish, shellfish or peanuts. As a restaurant operator, McDonald's does not have to comply but is doing so voluntarily.
A manufacturer with a food product that is essentially gluten-free can apply for an exemption to resolve the confusion, according to Michelle Melin-Rogovin, executive director of the celiac disease program.
McDonald's says it is "committed to transparency" about its menu and the nutrition information it provides customers. "It's important to note that the oil, cooking process and ingredients in our french fries have not changed," said William Whitman, spokesman for the Oakbrook, Ill.-based company.
Still, some people weren't taking any chances. The news ricocheted around the food allergy community, lighting up Internet message boards and unleashing a flurry of calls from parents who already feel as if they're tip-toeing through a minefield when it comes to policing their kids' diets.
For some children, even a minute amount of an allergen can turn a birthday party, field trip or sleepover into an event freighted with anxiety.
"My e-mail first started going crazy Monday afternoon," said Sueson Vess of Wheaton, Ill., who runs a Web site for people who must follow a gluten- and dairy-free diet, specialeats.com. About six people contacted her Tuesday about a possible reaction after eating at McDonald's, she said.
"It's very confusing. ... Just when you think you have the most up-to-date information, things change. It's like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall."
It's not enough just to take the bun off the hamburger, she said, because the mere contact of wheat with the patty can be enough to cause some distressing symptoms, ranging from hives to wheezing to gastrointestinal complications.
Many consumers credited McDonald's with doing a better job than most fast-food outlets at keeping potential allergens at bay, citing steps such as using fryers solely for cooking fries rather than other foods, which could trigger a reaction.
"I'm just so disappointed," said MaryAnn Lukas, who has two daughters with celiac disease. "When they go out with friends, no matter what town they're in ... they can always go to the Golden Arches. Now what are they going to eat? The boxes? This leaves the hamburger, lettuce, tomato and some of the condiments."
Kaur, on the other hand, is taking a wait-and-see attitude.
"This is something my kids will have to deal with the rest of their lives," she said. "You can't react to everything. ... If you do, it will just make you crazy."
Maybe mcdonald's should just go back the to classic french fries - you know, the ones that didn't suck.
Now they're adding so much other stuff and tons of salt to get them to taste mediocre. They had a recipe that was one of the best years ago.
No wonder they taste like cardboard. They were better when fried in beef fat and were made from just Idaho potatoes.
I used to ride my bike to the first MacDonald's in Des Plaines, back in '63, as a freshman in high school. Burgers were 7¢, fries 5¢, Cokes 10¢. I ate like a king for 50¢, in those days.
Real spuns fried in beef tallow.
I don't care about the wheat- what do they put in the fries that makes them ice cold by the time you leave the parking lot?
"...fried in beef fat and were made from just Idaho potatoes."
Exactly. Beef lard isn't all that bad for you. The veg. oil producers pulled a fast one on us and it hasn't been the same since.
We ought to go back to those old fries.
Try it sometime. Beef lard and Idaho spuds. A little sea salt and they are out of this world.
WOW....look at those prices. Same order almost costs $5 today. Your post also appears to indicate a drop in their quality.
Bring back beef tallow as the frying fat and the problem vanishes.
Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, the good old days.
Back in the day, their food was better, IMO. Too many shortcuts and substitutes today.
I'm going to walk down the street with a sandwich board that reads "McDonald' Golden Arches are an illustration of the Prophet Muhammed!" I will call their corporate offices and say I will only retract if they make fries the old way, before they decided to make them for people who don't like McDonald's food to begin with. Why the hell is a burger place trying to appease vegetarians and Hindus, neither of which EAT HAMBURGERS?
With that goal achieved I will turn my eyes South, to Atlanta, where I will demand Coca-Cola return to making their drink with actual sugar...
And not have every genetic misfit in the world screaming and filing lawsuits?
You're no fun. ;)
Wow, $8 million and $10 million lawsuit settlements! I wonder if I could sue, based upon my early 60s memories of the food being better than today's marginal bill-o'-fare. Nah.
Actually, the flame-broiled offerings from Burger King are tasting much better, when I have moments of weakness.
I have a *secret* recipe for homemade burgers, that'll knock your socks off, if anyone wants it.
* Buy the highest fat content ground beef you can get.
* Add 1oz water to 1lb of hamburger.
* Put a pat of butter in the center of each burger, before grilling.
* Always grill; never fry.
Thanks for the recipe.....will try it and let you know :)
If you go into 5 fast food places you get 5 diferent kinds of French Fries.
Some use mashed potatoes squeezed to look like a fry others use frozen potatoes.
I used to go to the Fire Department Carnivals and they had a bag of potatoes sitting there and a machine that squeezed the potatoes through a screen that sliced them into strips.
Yes folks real fries. Now even they use frozen processed fries. I dont buy them anymore.
Take a good potato ,I dont care if its Idaho or New York, or a spud raised in the back yard. Wash it off ,You dont even have to peel it ,run it through the slicer , throw it in any kind of lard, grease, oil you like as long as you dont get it from the local garage after its run through a Chevy and you have a French Fry. Anything else is just crap.
If they just let them cook them in beef tallow like they used to they wouldn't need any flavoring, it would just be potatoes, grease and salt.
I remember when they first came out with those skinny fried things back in the 50's, $.10 for a bag of them. It was disappointing because the local places used to make them fat which I liked much better, still do if you can get any. I've grown used to the skinny ones and still get an order once in a great while.
I have no idea what they were fried in, crinkle cut or straight cut, just so long as they didn't use stale grease (it happened). The grease has to be used for a couple batches to get the best ones. How I loved to douse those fat things in ketchup. Only real ketchup would do, as I could tell when some restaurants used other brands.
I never could get them right home, oil too fresh, you have to soak them in ice water before you plunge them in hot fat, etc.
I think Wendyburgers are pretty decent for fast food. Except that you have to tell them not to put catsup on the bun. Ugh. Ketchup is for fries, not for bread.
The were...the change was create the image that the fries were more "healthy," as if anyone goes into a fast-food hamburger joint for heath food. By frying in all vegetable oil, unnatural trans-fats are created, which are likely more dangerous than natural beef lard.
McDonald's also opened up the opportunity for predatory lawyers: McDonald's Supersizes Hindu Endowment
That's coconut oil, not beef tallow (lard) which would not have been very tasty! Wheaton always kicked your ass!
Jeepers. Is it me, or are allergies to just about everything more prevalent these days??? I don't remember all the dietary allergies being around when I was in grade school...
Why doesn't this mom just buy a big potato at the grocery, cut it up and fry it at home? Problem solved.
I had a high school chum who worked at the Des Plaines, ILL Mickey-Ds, and he said they'd dump all the burger frying grease into the fry machines. Man, those fries tasted good way back then.
Wheaton, Illinois. Home of John Belushi, Bob Woodward, Red Grange,...and Me!
I worked in a meat market for a few years. Besides the highest fat content ground beef being the overall lowest quality, you should keep in mind that unlike particular grinds such as ground round, ground chuck, etc., ground "beef" can mean just about anything. Hoof is considered "beef". ;-)
I think it's definitely more prevalent. Used to be that people like me, who had childhood allergies and asthma, would just die before we got old enough to reproduce. But with modern treatment I grew up and have two kids, both of whom inherited my allergies and asthma. And they're both going to grow up and reproduce, and so it will go, spreading throughout the gene pool.
There is a small locally owned fast food outfit here in Anchorage that still makes fries from spuds - you can watch them prepare and cook the food, they WANT you to see what you are getting.
The fries (and shakes) are the best, they use homemade ice cream for the shakes.
Another reason to spend the summer in Alaska I guess.
Their recipe for everything was CAREFULLY chosen to meet the palate tastes of the most DIVERSE group of people to increase the overall potential share. They stopped long ago making decent food for the sake of pandering to DIVERSITY and making a quick buck.
When I was young and started working at 14, I worked at Mickey D's in the early 60s when their food had real ingredents as Mother Nature made them (real beef, fries cut from real potatoes on-site, real coke, etc.) What they sell now bears No resemblance to the former, in my opinion (the IMO is there for libel purposes -- Mickey has been known to sue even the smallest critic).
Coming back to me now, DS. I lived ('58-'67) in Arlington Heights, but went to Mt Prospect HS ('63-'67). AH was a sleepy little town of 40,000. When I went back for my 25yr reunion, I didn't recognize the area. Man, did it ever grow-up and get crowded.
So these kids have been eating the McDonald's fries all along and only when this disclosure has been made it becomes a problem?
The company has felt the heat over its fries before. McDonald's paid $10 million in 2002 to settle a lawsuit by vegetarian groups after it was disclosed that its fries were being cooked in beef-flavored oil more than a decade after insisting that it was starting to use pure vegetable oil.
It paid another $8.5 million in February 2005 to settle a suit by a nonprofit advocacy group that accused the company of misleading consumers by announcing that it was changing its cooking oil, then delaying the switch.
That does it...I'm gonna sue...I thought all these years I was getting nice healthy beef lard, but instead they've been feeding me (my outrage is undiminished by the fact that I've probably eaten McDonald's French fries less then a dozen times since 1990) icky politically correct dangerous trans-fats...I WANT $1,000,000,000.00 DOLLARS...
In Ocean City Maryland there is a stand on the Boardwalk called Thrashers. They too use real potatoes and they cook them in peanut oil. No trip to Ocean City is without a stop there to get some fires. Like you say they do it all right there in front of you. They have a long line of people waiting.
But McDonalds and others seem to think they can fool the public with a poor substitute.
Ease of preparation probably has a lot to do with it. Its pretty easy to dump a batch of prepared fake frozen potatoes into some grease and hit the start button.
I am pretty sure with McDonalds they cant hire someone for minimum wage smart enough to cook a real potato. I dont go there often but last time I did they dont even wait for the fires to take on a Golden hue they get them out as soon as they start turning yellow. Half cooked.
Remember when McDonalds ran commercials showing an older gent plunking down a dollar bill for his burger, fries, and Coke and being surprised by getting change back from his buck?
The Inflation Calculator takes a bit of fun out of those reminisces by reminding me how much the dollar used to be worth back in the "old days". 1963's fifty cent lunch costs $3.05 in our inflation-adjusted dollars. I haven't eaten at McD's in quite a while so I don't know how the prices of a regular burger, small fries, and a small Coke compare to those times, but that sounds about right.
I remember the ad, DD. LOL. Thanks for the calculator.
The trick is to fry them twice. The first time at about 325 degrees for about 5 minutes then drain them. Hold them aside until just before you want to finish them. Have the oil/fat/lard/tallow at 365 degrees and finish them to a nice golden brown.Drain,salt and serve.
This works best in a deep pot with a thermometer and a large wire basket. Don't cook too many at once.
I was wondering the same thing. A PB&J was the universal sack lunch back in my 1960s elementary school days. I wonder what has changed?
Apparently I'm more fastidious, anal-retentive, picky, obsessive, and controlling than these parents. We just don't go to McDonald's -- for health reasons. It really would be so much easier for them to do the same than trying to cheat death for $1.49.