RIVERSIDE, Calif. (CN) - McDonald's defrauds customers by claiming its Mozzarella sticks are "100 percent real cheese," because it uses starch as a cheap filler to add weight, a class action claims in Federal Court.
Lead plaintiff Chris Howe sued McDonald's Corp. on behalf of customers in 42 states and the District of Columbia. He accuses the company of unfair and fraudulent competition, false advertising, and breach of warranty - the last under the laws of all 42 states and the District of Columbia.
McDonald's began selling "Mozzarella Sticks" in mid-2015, at first in Wisconsin, then nationwide, including California, where Howe lives. In advertising and packaging, it claims they are "made with 'pure mozzarella,' 'real mozzarella,' and '100% mozzarella,'" according to the Jan. 29 lawsuit, which includes photos of the packaging.
In fact, Howe claims, the cheese sticks are adulterated and misbranded: "The sticks are 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.'"
He claims that "McDonald's has used starch as a cheap substitute and filler. Due to starch's ability to hold moisture, a small amount can be introduced into a mixture to add bulk and weight at a fraction of the cost of real cheese. Upon information and belief, McDonald's has been able to cut costs of production by limiting its reliance on actual dairy products necessary to make mozzarella, contrary to what the law requires for products labeled as 'mozzarella.'"
The reason for this is "self-evident," Howe says: to save money and increase profits by fooling consumers.
The 32-page lawsuit includes federal standards for cheese, and the methods by which McDonald's allegedly violated them. It claims that testing of the sticks' cores - without the breaded coating - showed they were 3.76 percent starch by weight.
Howe seeks certification as a class of California consumers and a class of nationwide consumers, disgorgement, restitution, a cease-and-desist order, at least $5 million in damages, and costs.
His lead counsel is John Donboli with Del Mar Law Group in San Diego; with attorneys from Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca in Bethesda, Md. and Brooklyn, NY, and Halunen Law in Minneapolis.
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