A mother has sued McDonald’s Korea, claiming her four-year-old daughter is diagnosed with the “hamburger disease” after eating a burger with an undercooked patty.
“The 4-year-old had no health problems but caught hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) after eating a McDonald’s hamburger,” lawyer Hwang Da-yeon said at a news conference in front of the Seoul District Prosecutors Office Wednesday. “This is a grave mistake by McDonald’s because this tragedy would not have happened if they were careful in the first place.”
According to the mother, the child ate a “Happy Meal” set hamburger at a McDonald’s outlet in September and fell ill about three hours later, suffering from abdominal pains and diarrhea. She was admitted to an intensive care unit three days later and was diagnosed with HUS.
The child was discharged from the hospital two months later but is now suffering irreversible damage to her kidneys, having lost 90 percent of her kidney function. She is undergoing eight to 10 hours of peritoneal dialysis on a daily basis, with medical bills reaching upwards of 30 million won ($26,220).
"I cannot turn back time, and I can only wish for my daughter to get better," the mother, surnamed Choi, said.
HUS is a condition caused by the abnormal destruction of red blood cells. The damaged red blood cells clog the filtering system in the kidneys, which can lead to life-threatening kidney failure.
The most common underlying cause of HUS in children is infection with Escherichia Coli (E. coli). Although E. coli bacteria are commonly found in the intestines of healthy people and animals, some specific strains of E. coli, passed on through contaminated food, are responsible for infections that can lead to HUS.
The biggest outbreak of HUS was in 1993 where Jack in the Box, then the fifth-largest American burger chain, had about 1,200 restaurants; in the western U.S., 732 people were infected with HUS from infected burgers linked to the company.
In late 1993, there were four deaths, 171 hospitalizations, and more than 500 lab-confirmed infections, according to Wikipedia. The company’s reputation was severely tarnished and lost billions in legal and medical expenses, and shut down business in the years that followed.
McDonald’s Pyeongtaek outlet denied any links between the product and the child’s illness, saying that the meat was cooked by machines, eliminating human error.
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said it sent a letter to the 11 franchises that make and sell hamburgers on Wednesday, asking them to pay attention to meat patty management and cooking.