McDonalds and Food Allergies: Check ingredients on-line and again at the restaurant

By writing about McDonald’s Restaurants here, I am not recommending them in particular. However, they have outlets all over the world and sooner or later, many travellers find themselves stopping at McDonald’s even though at home it may not necessarily be their normal preference.

Not all McDonald’s are the same! While the U.S. McDonald’s website is very good at listing McDonald’s ingredients and nutrition information, that information is only good for the U.S. stores. If you are going to be in another country, you need to look at that country’s website, where the information may be different.

In experimenting with the U.S.A. and Canadian McDonald’s websites, using a Big Mac as a test case, it appeared that:

  • there are multiple screens to be worked through to actually find the detailed ingredients lists for the products, but both websites do have them – keep searching for “Details” and be thorough; try using the “Search” function or the site map as well
  • there are little differences in the specific ingredients of some of the parts of a Big Mac, for example:
  • in one place on the Canadian site, the pickles on the Big Mac are shown to contain garlic
  • in another place on the Canadian site, the pickles on the Big Mac do not appear to contain garlic
  • in at least one place on the U.S. site, the pickles on the Big Mac do not have garlic.

Does this matter? Possibly, if you are allergic to garlic. There were other apparently minor differences between the specific Canadian and U.S. ingredients, though not necessarily differences which would matter. For example, the bun (made mainly of wheat flour) also contains wheat starch in one of the Canadian lists, but not the U.S. list. If a person has a wheat allergy, they will probably avoid the bun altogether because of the flour. Whether there is a little added wheat starch probably won’t matter. It’s just an example of a small difference between two countries’ Big Mac ingredients.

More likely to cause concern is the sunflower oil which is listed as an ingredient of the grill seasoning in Canada but not in the U.S. If you are allergic to sunflower oil at all, would you take a chance on eating the U.S. version of the Big Mac? And yet, if you live in the U.S. and never had a reason to check the Canadian McDonald’s website, would you even consider this question?

Using the Search function on McDonald’s USA website, “sunflower” turned up only one result, and that was not for grill seasoning, but for Fruit ‘n’ Yogurt Parfait.

The customer has to realize that the lists of ingredients change from time to time. It is not wise to rely on outdated lists. Probably the best approach is to check the on-line list to get an idea of what to expect, but then to check in the restaurant again, before eating.

The bottom line is, don’t assume that things will be the same once you leave home. McDonald’s disclosure looks very comprehensive, so there is a fair bit of preparation you can do in advance, but ingredients lists change with time and from one place to another.

I have written to McDonald’s USA to ask about the sunflower oil in the grill seasoning or in any McDonald’s cooking oil. Please check back to see how they reply.