Sunday, February 19, 2006

CNN.com - McDonald's sued over fries ingredients - Feb 19, 2006

Seems that McDonalds just doesn't get any respect. People complain about them, how their food is causing an epidemic of fatty Americans, the amount of waste products that come from McDonalds, etc. And, now, it's the ingredients of their french fries.

Well, if McDonalds were a responsible corporation they might not be so badly beat up over what they do.

Now, about the french fries. They've quietly begun adding both wheat and milk products to the fries. And now they're getting sued.

Wheat is a problem for someone who has Celiac disease. Celiac disease is an intolerance to gluten, gluten being a protein contained in wheat and some other grains. Celiac disease can be life threatening.

Milk products are a problem for vegans (vegitarians who also avoid dairy products) and for people with lactose intolerance.

McDonalds admits it adds wheat and milk products to its french fries. And has a notice about this on their web site.

Where? On their web site??? So, let's see, you're in a McDonalds somewhere looking at the menu. Hmm, french fries aren't supposed to contain wheat, nor are they likely to contain animal products ... so you can easily see how celiacs or vegans would buy french fries only to be surprised later. And where is their warning? On a web site? yeesh

There's a principle being violated here. That is the "principle of least surprise". Least surprise means that when you're looking at some object, that it should do/be pretty much what it looks like it does.

An example might be a plastic lapel flower, that looks real. Your friend might lean over to sniff the flower, and then be surprised when you squeeze the hidden water bulb that squirts them in the face.

While the principle of least surprise can be a great joke, it can also be life threatening. For example what if someone were to rig their stove so it turns on the gas when you flip a light switch on the wall. Someone else could innocently look at the light switch, want some light, flip the switch, and curse when the light doesn't come on and start hunting for a new light bulb. In the meantime the kitchen is filling with gas, which could lead to a deadly explosion.

The same kind of surprise is here with these french fries. And it's not just french fries, but all sorts of food items have surprising ingredients. I have a mild gluten intolerance and in my hunt for gluten free foods I longingly look at the corn bread mixes in the store. But often as not, the ingredients list for corn bread has wheat as the first ingredient. Corn bread containing wheat???

At least in this case the principle of least surprise is easily alleviated because of the ingredients list on the box. In the case of the McDonalds french fries the ingredients list is inconveniently on a web site, far away from the person in line getting ready to make their order.

Source: McDonald's sued over fries ingredients