SEOUL, Jul. 15 (Korea Bizwire) — Fast food chains have long been a staple of modern life in countries around the world, appealing to demographics crossing cultures and age groups.
The familiar signs sported by the likes of McDonald’s and Burger King are globally accepted, even comforting to some. However, the recent controversy surrounding an allegedly undercooked patty used in a Happy Meal burger that gave a four-year-old girl acute kidney damage gives a glimpse into what lies behind the friendly façade presented by fast food giants.
When the news story first broke around last week of Choi Eun-joo, the mother who filed a complaint with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office after her child fell seriously ill, it sent the nation into a ‘burger phobia‘ that kept many of the fast food restaurants empty the following week.
While another complaint filed by a different customer and protests led by interest groups representing mothers ensued, with the majority of the public on the mother’s side, Choi’s tears over her child’s illness were also met with skepticism from some of the loyal fast food chain enthusiasts as McDonald’s Korea continues to stand firm in its claim that no food safety standards were breached.
One comment left on an online news website disregarded the fears sweeping across the country as baseless hysteria, while others drew comparisons with the nationwide protest against American beef over mad cow disease.
Given the current climate of public opinion, however, it’s worth looking into the extent to which fears among South Koreans over undercooked patties are justified.
So, minus the panic and frenzy, what are the actual risks of eating a fast food burger?
Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a disease found to predominantly affect children, has been at the center of controversies and lawsuits involving fast food chains around the world.
Data released by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this week revealed that 24 people have been reported to suffer from HUS between 2011 and 2016, among which over 85 percent were younger than 10 years of age.
Often transmitted through the ingestion of undercooked meat, symptoms normally begin within a week of contracting an E. coli infection.
In the U.S, a country that boasts most of the largest international fast food restaurant chains, there have been dozens of cases in which consumers contracted E. coli infections through fast food, as reported by CNN.
The New York Times also reported on an American woman who became paralyzed in 2007 after suffering from illness related to E. coli, which was found by authorities to have originated in a burger she ate. After filing a lawsuit, she reached a settlement with the meat producer in question in 2013, according to multiple reports.
In the case of the four-year-old South Korean girl who is at the middle of the controversy involving the American fast food giant, the conversation is naturally fixated on the alleged undercooked patty, similar to a good number of precedents, many of which also led to a lawsuit.
Contrary to McDonald’s Korea’s official stance, one former employee says it’s completely possible that undercooked patties can go unnoticed in the kitchen due to negligence on the part of kitchen staff, as well as the busy nature of fast food chains.
“Without properly checking how the switch for the grill is placed, pork patties could have been served undercooked,” a former McDonald’s employee said in a TV interview.
As the South Korean public distances itself from fast food burgers for the time being amid the controversy surrounding the alleged use of an undercooked burger patty at McDonald’s, the ongoing lawsuit against the South Korean branch of the fast food giant could be the high price South Korea pays to raise awareness of food safety in the kitchens of thousands of fast food chains.
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)