McDonald’s is facing a proposed class action lawsuit following reports that its fast-food packaging contains harmful per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), commonly known as “forever chemicals.”
The 47-page lawsuit comes days after watchdog Consumer Reports published that unsafe levels of forever chemicals were found in certain types of packaging used by major fast-food restaurants, including the paper bags McDonald’s uses for several of its products.
The case, filed on March 28 in Illinois federal court, says that despite assuring to consumers that food safety is “at the core of everything we do,” McDonald’s has “[f]or the last three decades” falsely represented to the public that its food is safe for consumption.
According to the lawsuit, the use of PFAS in McDonald’s food packaging is particularly concerning given that foods with higher levels of sodium and fat, such as fast food, “have strong likelihoods of PFA migration from the food product packaging.”
“Unfortunately, each time an American buys a Big Mac, they are exposed to high levels of PFAS,” the suit alleges.
The filing states that the McDonald’s Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets, cookies and french fries in particular were independently tested and found to contain PFAS, which can be harmful to humans even at very low levels.
Overall, the lawsuit claims that McDonald’s has known for some time that its food packaging contains PFAS, despite admitting to it only recently, yet nevertheless failed to warn consumers. The suit says the fast-food giant “intentionally chooses” to use PFAS in its products as a cost-cutting measure and “in an effort to further boost profits.”
“This ‘profits over people’ approach allows McDonald’s Corporation to save pennies per unit sold, and instead pass these ‘costs’ at a far greater rate onto generations of consumers that must live with the consequences of McDonald’s willful inclusion and concealment of dangerous PFAS in McDonald’s Products,” the complaint scathes.
Forever chemicals persist over time, case says
The term “forever chemicals” is used to describe PFAS due to their extremely strong carbon-fluorine bonds, inability to degrade in the environment and tendency to accumulate in the human body, the filing relays. Exposure to forever chemicals, which do not occur naturally in the environment, poses a risk in particular to young children and pregnant women, the lawsuit says, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that PFAS exposure is linked to cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility and an increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease.
The case notes that consumer products typically containing PFAS are those promoted as being resistant to heat and stains, long lasting, or capable of repelling water, oil or grease. Many companies use PFAS for carpets, clothing, fabrics and cookware materials, the suit adds.
McDonald’s has used PFAS for decades, suit claims
According to the lawsuit, McDonald’s Corporation began using PFAS decades ago “[i]n an effort to boost profits” and has continued ever since. The suit traces this back to the company’s shift from thick cardboard-like cartons for its hashbrowns to paper bags.
To prevent grease from leaking from the new packaging, McDonald’s added a PFA made by 3M called “Scotchban FC-807” to the paper bags and increased its profits by millions each year, the complaint says. The Scotchban chemical has also been used by McDonald’s for its McWaffle Sticks containers, and a similar compound was used for the Big Mac, the case relays.
The suit posits that the harms of using Scotchban in such close proximity to food were not unknown at the time McDonald’s made its packaging switch. Indeed, 3M reportedly confirmed approximately 20 years before McDonald’s use of the chemical that mice who were fed FC-807 had 4,000 times the normal levels of organic fluorine in their systems, the lawsuit states.
Who does the lawsuit look to cover?
The proposed class action looks to represent all consumers in the United States who bought McDonald’s products, including the Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets, cookies and french fries, possibly among others, whose wrapper or packaging contained per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
How do I get in on the McDonald’s forever chemicals class action?
In general, there’s nothing you need to do to join, be added to, or make sure you’re “included” in the proposed class action detailed on this page.
If the case proceeds and eventually settles, the people who are covered by the case, who are called “class members,” would receive notice of the deal with instructions on, for instance, how to file a claim online or by mail and details on their legal rights.
Class actions tend to take some time to work through the legal process, however, usually toward a settlement, dismissal or arbitration. In the meantime, staying informed is key. If you’re a McDonald’s customer, or just want to stay in the loop on class action lawsuit and settlement news, sign up for ClassAction.org’s free weekly newsletter.
A PDF of the complaint can be found below.