Manitoba

People with allergies outraged by McDonald's nut decision

People with allergies and those who care for them are outraged over a decision by McDonald's Canada to add nuts to some food items on its menu.

Facebook, Twitter users say they're #NotLovinIt as McDonald's warns products may now come in contact with nuts

Winnipegger Jeff Palmer is disappointed his family will have to avoid McDonald's from now on. His eight-year-old daughter, Heidi, has a peanut allergy. (CBC)

People with allergies and those who care for them are outraged over a decision by McDonald's Canada to add nuts to some food items on its menu.

"It's disappointing for us and disappointing for my daughter," said Winnipegger Jeff Palmer, whose eight-year-old daughter, Heidi, has been tested and found to have a peanut allergy.

"We avoid any product that may contain peanuts," he said, and that means the Palmer family will also be avoiding McDonald's from now on.

McDonald's new Skor McFlurry contains chopped almonds in the pieces of chocolate. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)
While his family doesn't go to the fast-food chain regularly, they stop by after soccer games and when they're travelling.

"You don't want to have her excluded from birthday parties and events when they go to McDonald's to play in the playroom and that sort of thing," he said.

In a statement on its website, McDonald's said that as of Jan. 17 the company will be using nuts that are not individually packaged in some food items on its menu across Canada.

The company said its new Skor McFlurry "is the first product that will contain non-packaged peanuts or tree nuts. As a result, all products available at our restaurants may contain or come into contact with peanuts, tree nuts or other allergens."

McDonald's says it is sensitive to the concerns of people with food allergies, which is why it's warning them about these changes.

But the McDonald's Canada Facebook site has been flooded with angry comments.

There's even a Twitter hashtag, #NotLovinIt.

For years, McDonald's has been a safe place for people with allergies to eat and the change is alarming, said Beatrice Povolo, director of advocacy and media relations for the group Food Allergy Canada.

"They would  like to better understand what's changed and what procedures are in place to minimize the risks," she said.

McDonald's has obviously made a calculated decision, balancing the negative publicity and the bottom line, said Sylvain Charlebois, dean of the faculty of management at Dalhousie University in Halifax

"This decision may have something to do with their procurement strategy. We've seen McDonald's making tweaks and changes to their menu, making it a little less labour intensive. And perhaps at some point, they've had to make a decision around ingredients," he said.

As of Jan. 17, McDonald's is adding nuts that are not individually packaged to food items on its menu across Canada. (Karen Pauls )
Charlebois points to research that suggests exposing children to peanuts at an early age may reduce the chances of becoming allergic to peanuts.

"We may actually be experiencing sort of a peak in terms of risk avoidance in food safety. More and more people are starting to suggest that perhaps more risk is actually good for your health and maybe that's why McDonald's has decided to move forward on this policy," he said. 

The decision may have industry-wide ripple effects, he said. "What other chains will consider McDonald's decision as a worthy decision to consider?"

Marketing experts are divided on how big an effect this will have, but they do agree it will leave a bad taste in many people's mouths. 

"[The] McDonald's brand is so strong and so resilient that I doubt there will be a drastically major negative effect from those who don't have allergies or kids with allergies," David Wilkie, CEO of the Winnipeg advertising firm Fusion said in an email.

"The people with allergies will not go anymore.… I don't know how many people that is, but imagine the baseball team and the soccer team and school trips. No stopping at McDonald's anymore. That means not only will [the chain] miss out on people with allergies, but on their friends, colleagues and teammates too."

Jeff Palmer is among those who will be looking for a new fast-food option for their families, but he has a message for McDonald's.

"There's such a huge outcry, so many people affected, I wish they would reconsider."

McDonald's Canada to add nuts to food items on its menu

6 years ago
Duration 1:48
People with allergies and those who care for them are outraged over a decision by McDonald's Canada to add nuts to some food items on its menu.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karen Pauls

National reporter

Karen Pauls covers Manitoba stories for CBC national news. She has worked across Canada, U.S. and Europe, and in CBC bureaus in Washington, London and Berlin. Some of her awards include the New York Festivals for coverage of the Greyhound bus beheading and a Quirks & Quarks question show, and from the Radio Television Digital News Association for stories about asylum seekers, the Michif language, the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy, live elections and royal wedding shows. In 2007, Karen received the Canadian Association of Journalist’s Dateline Hong Kong Fellowship and did a radio documentary on the 10th anniversary of the deadly avian flu outbreak. Story tips at karen.pauls@cbc.ca.

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