The discovery of potentially toxic levels of ‘forever chemicals’ in restaurant packaging by Consumer Reports last month sparked what some predict will be a flurry of lawsuits – despite restaurant chains’ efforts to phase out the use of chemicals. toxins.
At least two lawsuits filed in late March targeted McDonald’s Corp., and one filed in early April targeted Burger King. Lawyers say the recent report and growing regulatory activity banning the use of per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in consumer products will likely trigger an increase in class action lawsuits.
PFAS refer to a class of some 9,000 substances used to make paper or containers more resistant to grease. Called “eternal chemicals” because they hardly ever break down, the chemicals are also used for non-stick cookware, as flame retardants and to waterproof clothing. For years, lawsuits have sprung up across the country involving PFAS in drinking water and cosmetics.
In a March report, Consumer Reports tested more than 100 packaging products from 24 major restaurant chains and national grocery stores, finding that nearly half had at least one product with high levels of PFAS in some items, including Arby’s. , Burger King, Cava, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, Nathan’s and Sweetgreen.
The recent lawsuits also cited testing in 2020 by advocacy group Toxic Free Future, which also found high levels of PFAS in restaurant and retail packaging.
Restaurant chains, however, say they have already started phasing out packaging containing PFAS, and some have accelerated their efforts in the wake of the Consumer Reports article. But, given the supply chain challenges in the industry, switching to packaging with lower levels of PFAS could take time.
The lawsuits against McDonald’s and Burger King seek class action status and are similar in their arguments. Rather than saying exposure to PFAS caused specific harm, which would be harder to prove, the lawsuits accuse the restaurant brands of fraud, misrepresentation and false advertising for claiming that the food they serve is safe.
In a lawsuit filed March 28 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, for example, plaintiff Larry Clark accused McDonald’s Corp. of exposing American consumers to high levels of PFAS in product packaging, arguing that the exposure is most dangerous for young children. and pregnant women. In the complaint, Clark refers to a “multitude of health effects associated with PFAS” described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease.
In the complaint, Clark accuses McDonald’s of fraud and deceptive marketing practices, among other charges, for violating its commitment to food safety.
Similar allegations are made in a March 30 lawsuit filed by plaintiff Ken McDowell, who lives in California but sued McDonald’s Corp. in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, as the chain is based in Chicago.
On April 11, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, plaintiff Azman Hussein sued Burger King Corp. with a similar complaint, highlighting the chain’s recent efforts to promote its use of “real ingredients” with no “secrets” and sustainability. packaging.
Neither McDonald’s nor Burger King immediately responded to requests for further comment on the lawsuits. Both companies, however, have committed to eliminating PFAS from packaging by 2025 or earlier.
In a recent blog post, attorneys at the law firm BakerHostetler predicted that more personal injury class action lawsuits against fast food restaurants and food packaging manufacturers would arise, in part because of a decision by federal court in Ohio in a drinking water case against a chemical manufacturer. DuPont who certified a class action lawsuit to include state residents with PFAS in their bloodstream.
The case is on appeal, the blog notes, but plaintiff’s attorneys successfully persuaded the court to treat PFAS as similar to asbestos and tobacco — two of the largest personal injury lawsuits in state history. States – which “could have significant implications for how subsequent PFAS class actions are argued and defended,” the blog said.
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout