Because of spam, I personally moderate all comments left on my blog. However, because of health issues, I will not be able to do so in the future.

If you have a personal question about LI or any related topic you can send me an email at I will try to respond.

Otherwise, this blog is now a legacy site, meaning that I am not updating it any longer. The basic information about LI is still sound. However, product information and weblinks may be out of date.

In addition, my old website, Planet Lactose, has been taken down because of the age of the information. Unfortunately, that means links to the site on this blog will no longer work.

For quick offline reference, you can purchase Planet Lactose: The Best of the Blog as an ebook on or Almost 100,000 words on LI, allergies, milk products, milk-free products, and the genetics of intolerance, along with large helpings of the weirdness that is the Net.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Whose Responsibility Is It When You Bite Into Cheese?

According to a $10 million lawsuit filed against McDonald's on July 17, a man named Jeromy Jackson walked into a West Virginia McDonald's and ordered two Quarter Pounders without cheese. He claims that he asked employees several times to ensure that no cheese would be put on the burgers. His attorney says he "took at least five independent steps to make sure that thing had no cheese on it."

Of course, the Quarter Pounders had cheese on them.

Jackson did not discover this until he was in a darkened room watching a movie, at which point he bit into the sandwich.

Jackson is allergic to cheese. He had a reaction and needed to go to a hospital.

According to a West Virginia newspaper, this lawsuit is fueling a debate on responsibility across the internet.

They quote some random responses:

* Conservative radio host Sean Hannity discussed the case on his show, and his Web site, citing the suit as a reason the country needs tort reform. A person commenting on the thread said, "I won't go so far as to say that the lawsuit itself is wrong. The McDonald's [sic] did screw up his order in a way that they were made aware could pose a health risk. But this negligence is mitigated by the contributory negligence of the customer when he didn't even bother to check the burger himself."

* Bob Parks, senior editor of the New Media Journal, said this on his blog, Black and Right, "Let's be real. There are a lot of good people working at fast food joints, but they are also not highly paid and some really don't give a damn. If I was awarded $10 million for every time I got a tomato on my Whopper or fried egg on a Sausage McMuffin after asking for them not to be included, I'd own a few franchises and I'd always get it my way."

* Jonathan David Morris, of Renew America, had this to say, "I am not lactose intolerant, but I sympathize with Jackson. Moreover, I have no sympathy whatsoever for McDonald's here. True, had he lifted his bun and checked before biting, Jackson could have saved himself from harm. But at what point do we say enough is enough already? McDonald's 'mistake' was no honest error. These fast food chains have been pushing cheese on us for years."

* One moderator on the blog said, "It's hard for me to imagine why it should be more important for McDonald's workers to ensure he got a no-cheese burger than it would be for him. If he can't be bothered to take some responsibility and look for himself, then why should anyone else be expected to do so?"

Who's right? Well, first, we need to get past the ignorance factor. Take Morris' comment. Lactose intolerance is not dairy allergy. Nobody is anaphylactic to lactose. But allergy sufferers can literally die from a reaction. That's also why Parks' comments are irrelevant. Something that can kill you is not equivalent to an extra slice of tomato.

Ironically, another lawsuit against McDonald's was also recently filed in West Virginia. The same newspaper reports that:
Arden Carte, and his wife, Donna Carte, filed a suit Aug. 2 in Kanawha Circuit Court against the fast-food chain after he bit into his biscuit and found a bandage. ...

He discovered it was a bandage that "had been negligently inserted" into his biscuit. Carte claims he suffered a severe allergic reaction due to the latex in the bandage and went into anaphylactic shock.

What's the response to this? Is a bandage in food inartistically more disgusting? Is there a line that people can draw to say that anaphylactic shock from a bandage is more of an issue than anaphylactic shock from unwanted food because no one could expect the bandage?

I know that I spent many years doublechecking all food products for lactose when I first learned I was lactose intolerant. In those days there were no such things as lactose pills, no ingredient lists that gave specific warnings about milk, no handy lists of lactose percentages to guide me in what I could eat. I approached lactose as a computer would, as a simple yes/no variable. Very few people had ever even heard of lactose intolerance in those days. Getting restaurant employees to find out what ingredients were in food was a continuing battle. There were times when I ate food that contained lactose, but in forms not as easily noticeable as a melted cheese slice.

So who is to blame? Must all the responsibility be placed on the person with the ailment to check and doublecheck and never take any food for granted? When should the restaurant take responsibility for its mistakes after having been warned? Where's the line?

A poll on that newspaper site asked readers who held the responsibility. They voted about 8 to 1 for the man with the dairy allergy. I bet that a poll taken on an allergy site would show very different results.

I don't think this is an easy question, with a clear answer, in this case or for such cases in general. Nor do I think this is a frivolous lawsuit. When lines are fuzzy, the courts are often asked to step in and make a determination.

My sympathies are certainly for Jackson. Why should people have to put up with incompetence that could kill them? It does not take much training to deliver an order of "without cheese" nor much experience to leave the cheese off an order.

At the same time, I've always advised people never to assume. That people should always read ingredients lists on foods and medicines, carefully read descriptions on menus, ask whenever there is some doubt.

Perhaps the current recalls of Chinese toys and other products will make the situation clearer for those who don't have allergies of their own. Why should you have to doublecheck your toys to be sure they are free of lead paint, or your toothpaste to be free of toxins? Shouldn't you be able to take that for granted?

Where do you draw the line?

It's not an easy question. I hope some of you will decide to debate it.

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