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WSJ: McDonald's French Fries Contain Possible Allergens Wheat, Milk

Posted Oct 01 2008 8:02pm
McDonald's French Fries Contain Possible Allergens Wheat, Milk
By DAVID P. HAMILTON
February 13, 2006; Page B4

McDonald's Corp. said its french fries contain "wheat and milk ingredients" that might cause problems for diners sensitive to these substances.

McDonald's previously had described its fries as free of substances that can cause allergic or other medical reactions in sensitive people. The Oak Brook, Ill., fast-food giant said the change in its ingredient disclosures followed its decision to conform to new federal food-labeling rules, and doesn't reflect any change in the ingredients of its fries or the way they are prepared.

Some people with food-sensitivity conditions previously considered McDonald's fries safe based on information supplied by the company. For instance, some individuals with celiac disease -- an autoimmune condition triggered by gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley -- worried in an online forum that perhaps McDonald's fries have always contained gluten, despite the company's assertions to the contrary.

Cathy Kapica, McDonald's director of global nutrition, said the company's fries include a "natural flavoring" made, in part, from extracts of wheat and dairy products. Dr. Kapica said those extracts are processed in ways designed to remove wheat and dairy proteins, which are the substances generally responsible for triggering allergies or food-sensitivity problems.

Until last week, McDonald's described the flavoring as safe for people with food allergies and other dietary sensitivities. On its Web site, McDonald's listed the fries on a page of menu items "for people with gluten sensitivity." On an "allergies and sensitivities" page, the fries were described as free of gluten and milk or wheat "allergens."

More recently, however, McDonald's decided to bring its nutritional information into voluntary compliance with new Food and Drug Administration food-labeling rules that took effect Jan. 1. Those regulations, which apply to packaged foods but not to restaurant meals, require labels to note the presence of common allergens such as milk, eggs, wheat, fish or peanuts.

Under McDonald's interpretation of the FDA rules, Dr. Kapica said, the company decided to note the presence of the wheat and dairy ingredients used to flavor its fries. "If someone is really sensitive, they need to be aware that this product was at one point derived from wheat and dairy," Dr. Kapica said.

On the other hand, anyone who has eaten the fries without incident "can continue to do so," Dr. Kapica said.

Write to David P. Hamilton at david.hamilton@wsj.com
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