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. ;)
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