Food & Nutrition

10 Fast-Food Scandals That Rocked the Industry

These sure didn’t help the chains’ unhealthy reputations.

McDonald’s under fire for hot coffee


You’ve probably rolled your eyes at the infamous case of a woman suing McDonald’s for almost $ 3 million in 1992 because the hot coffee she spilled was too hot, but there’s more to the story than a cranky, money-hungry customer. Stella Liebeck hadn’t just ruined her pants—she’d suffered third-degree burns that kept her in the hospital for a week and required medical attention for another two years. Plus, it turned out that 700 other people had already complained to McDonald’s about injuries from the coffee served between 180°F and 190°F. Since then, the fast-food company has lowered its coffee temperatures ten degrees. For more crazy stories, read the 13 craziest things drive-through workers have seen on the job.

Burger King may contain horsemeat

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE-JANUARY 20, 2018: Burger King is one of the largest hamburger chains with over 15,000 locations worldwide.James R. Martin/Shutterstock

In 2013, some European meat suppliers came under fire when investigators found they’d been mixing horsemeat in with products advertised as beef. Among the top companies involved was Burger King; trace amounts of horsemeat were found in its supply chain. No evidence of horsemeat was found in BK products themselves, but the fast-food chain tried to keep “neigh”-sayers happy by switching suppliers.

McDonald’s sneaks meat into its vegetable oil

Bangkok, Thailand - 17,July 2018 : A closed up photo of junk food with selective focus on Fresh fried french fries from McDonalds .Editorial only, McDonald's is a brand from America.BORIMAT PRAOKAEW/Shutterstock

Until 1990, McDonald’s was open about cooking its fries in beef fat, but eventually it switched the recipe to vegetable oil after a push from consumers. What it failed to mention was that the fries still weren’t vegan-friendly—the vague “natural flavors” item on the ingredients list still included beef products. Three vegetarians (two of whom avoided meat for religious reasons) sued the company for misleading them, but McDonald’s argued that it had never claimed its fries were vegetarian. It eventually settled the lawsuits by donating $ 10 million to Hindu groups as well as some others. Learn about the countries that have banned McDonald’s altogether.

Taco Bell’s mystery meat

HDR image, Taco Bell restaurant, drive thru highway sign - Revere, Massachusetts USA - March 10, 2018QualityHD/Shutterstock

In 2011, a class-action lawsuit claimed that Taco Bell’s beef was only 35 percent meat, which, according to USDA standards, means it can’t really call itself “beef.” The suit was dropped when Taco Bell put marketing efforts into debunking the claims, but its reputation for mystery meat never really faded. In the age of “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it,” consumers still have beef with the 12 percent of its beef products that aren’t meat. You wouldn’t find that at the fast-food restaurant with the best reputation in America.

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