Maharashtra FDA Cracks Down on McDonald’s for Alleged Use of Cheese Substitutes

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Ahmednagar/Mumbai, 24th February 2024: The Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken strong action against McDonald’s, accusing the fast-food giant of deceptive practices by using cheese substitutes in their products instead of real cheese. As a result, the FDA has suspended the license of a McDonald’s outlet in Ahmednagar, leading the chain to remove the term “cheese” from various items at that location. The FDA is now pushing for corrective measures to be implemented statewide and nationally.

Cheese alternatives, known as cheese analogues, are designed to mimic the taste, texture, and functionality of traditional dairy cheese. These substitutes, allegedly found in several McDonald’s items, often replace milk or dairy fat with more cost-effective vegetable oil. The FDA alleges that McDonald’s failed to disclose the use of cheese analogues on food labels or electronic display boards, potentially misleading consumers into believing they were consuming real cheese.

FDA Commissioner Abhimanyu Kale emphasized that the omission of such crucial details is misleading for consumers and could have health implications. “During inspection, our officers did not find any mention of cheese analogues anywhere. Items like ‘cheese nuggets,’ ‘cheesy dip,’ and ‘cheeseburger’ were labeled as such without indicating that the cheese was a substitute,” he said. “We suspect that other fast-food pizza and burger joints may also be engaging in similar practices, and we plan to investigate these chains as well.”

The FDA’s action against McDonald’s began in October with an inspection of their Kedgaon branch in Ahmednagar. Following the discovery that at least eight items, including cheesy nuggets, McCheese veg burger, McCheese non-veg burger, corn and cheese burger, cheesy Italian veg, and blueberry cheesecake, contained cheese analogues, the food inspector issued a showcause notice to the establishment. Despite McDonald’s contesting the FDA’s action, the outlet’s license was suspended due to an unsatisfactory explanation.

FDA Commissioner Kale later issued an order emphasizing the need for clear labeling, with font size and colors distinguishable from regular cheese. He also insisted on the display of nutritional information, including the percentage of fat, protein, etc., for products made with substitutes. Kale recommended that up to 40% of display boards in establishments should be used to specify nutritional values, addressing allergen concerns and dietary considerations such as higher trans-fat.

In response to the FDA’s actions, McDonald’s wrote to the FDA in December, stating that they had renamed products by eliminating the word “cheese.” For example, cheesy nuggets were renamed veg nuggets, McCheese veg burger became cheddar delight veg burger, and blueberry cheesecake was changed to blueberry cake. Some outlets in Santacruz, Kurla, and Bhendi Bazar in Mumbai have already adopted the new names.

McDonald’s, however, denied using substitutes and assured customers that they use only real, quality cheese in all products containing cheese. A spokesperson from McDonald’s India (W&S) stated, “We are actively working with the relevant authorities on this matter” and shared letters from their cheese suppliers confirming the authenticity of the cheese sauce used in frozen cheese nuggets.