The popular mozzarella cheese sticks are advertised as made with “pure mozzarella,” “real mozzarella,” and “100% real cheese,” according to the class-action lawsuit filed with the United States District Court for the Central District of California on Jan. 29.
But the sticks are actually filled with “a substance that is composed (in part) of starch, in violation of the federal standards of identity for ‘mozzarella’ cheese, and contrary to reasonable consumers’ expectations regarding the meaning of the term ‘mozzarella,’” according to the complaint.
In other words, it’s not real cheese.
Any “reasonable interpretation” of the advertisements would lead consumers “to believe that the Sticks contained mozzarella cheese that comports with their understanding of what mozzarella is, and that conforms to relevant federal and state law,” Howe argues.
McDonald’s denies the charge that it falsely advertised the sticks and misled its customers about the authenticity of its cheese sticks.
“Our mozzarella cheese sticks are made with 100% low moisture part skim mozzarella cheese,” McDonald’s spokesperson Lisa McComb told BuzzFeed News in a statement. “We intend to defend ourselves vigorously against these allegations.”
Howe tested the cores of sample cheese sticks and found the oozy centers “contain 3.76% starch by weight.”
“Because of starch’s moisture-holding properties,” he argues, “the total percentage of permitted mozzarella ingredients by weight is thereby reduced substantially. In other words, the starch becomes a cheap substitute for permitted ingredients, and a vehicle for an even cheaper ingredient: water.”
This is not cheese, he argues.
Howe is asking the court for monetary relief for the “displaced cheese that would be required to fill the Sticks.”
McDonald’s charges about $1.29 for three mozzarella sticks, according to the complaint.
But Ben Elga, an attorney with Cuneo, Gilbert & LaDuca which is representing Howe, told BuzzFeed News that the case is also about corporate transparency.
“Federal standards of identity for food products make sure that everyone is on a level playing field and people know what they are buying,” he said. “Our client’s case alleges that it is important to keep corporations honest and transparent about the ingredients in their food products, and that adulterated dairy products hurt consumers by short-changing them.”
Howe is the only plaintiff currently in the class-action suit. This number was previously misstated.
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