More suits filed against McD over ingredient disclosure

LOS ANGELES Three new lawsuits were filed Monday here and in St. Charles, Mo., alleging that McDonald’s Corp.’s failure to disclose until February 2006 that its French fries and hash browns contain two allergens caused illnesses among the plaintiffs or their children.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Brian Smith of West Palm Beach, Fla., said that before the disclosures about wheat gluten and the milk protein casein, McDonald’s website had identified the potato items as gluten-free. The website currently states in capital letters that those items contain wheat and milk.

Sixteen similar suits against the chain are pending in Florida as well as two in Maryland and a federal class action in Chicago, according to Smith and another plaintiffs’ attorney, Paul Rechenberg of Chesterfield, Mo. The suits say McDonald’s did not make the disclosure until the U.S. Food & Drug Administration required food makers to disclose any of eight allergens.

McDonald’s officials said in a statement that the lawsuits filed Monday are without merit.

"We have long provided nutrition information about the quality food across our menu,” the statement said. “With respect to this matter, federal labeling laws changed on potential allergens. Once suppliers told us that wheat and dairy starting ingredients go into the making of the natural flavoring for our cooking oil, we updated nutritional information."

This spring a federal judge in Chicago dismissed three of five claims against McDonald’s in a lawsuit by 11 consumers who claimed the chain had purposely concealed the presence of allergens in its potato items. The judge said the plaintiffs failed to substantiate an intentional deception, but she let stand claims of unjust enrichment and breach of an implied warranty of product safety.

McDonald’s last November asked the court to dismiss the case and characterized the plaintiffs as a few “hypersensitive consumers with allergies.”

That lawsuit, which seeks a change in advertising policy, was filed after McDonald’s early last year changed its website’s statement that its fries were safe for consumers with allergies and “people with gluten sensitivities.” The chain at that time also revealed that the fries have one-third more trans fats that previously reported, 20 percent more overall fat and 10 percent more calories.