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PCRM Turns Up the Heat on KFC’s New Grilled Chicken

Cancer in a Bucket

Most Americans know that fried chicken is not a healthful food. But when fast-food giant Kentucky Fried Chicken began aggressively marketing grilled chicken as “the better-for-you chicken for health-conscious customers,” many consumers had no idea that KFC’s new product contains chemicals linked to cancer.

A PCRM scientist visited six KFC stores, obtained two samples from each store, and sent them to an independent testing laboratory. Tests revealed that every piece of the grilled chicken product contained PhIP, a chemical that has been shown to increase cancer risk.

PCRM urged the chicken chain to withdraw the product, but so far the company has failed to take action. Now PCRM is suing KFC for continuing to sell the grilled chicken without warning customers of this health hazard.

The new KFC grilled chicken products were the focus of a controversial promotion by Oprah Winfrey, who offered coupons for free Kentucky Grilled Chicken meals on her Web site. PCRM has alerted Ms. Winfrey to these findings.

“Grilled chicken contains carcinogens, and consumers deserve to know it,” says PCRM president Neal Barnard, M.D. “KFC should post warnings to alert all customers to the risk associated with its new product.”

No Safe Level
PhIP is part of a chemical family known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and has been linked to cancer in numerous scientific studies. The National Toxicology Program administered by the National Institutes of Health has identified PhIP as carcinogenic, as has the International Agency for Research on Cancer. 

Scientists have not found a safe level of PhIP consumption—it appears to increase cancer risk even at very low levels. Grilled chicken is the largest source.

PhIP and other HCAs are formed from the creatinine, amino acids, and sugar found in muscle tissue. They are produced by long cooking times and hot temperatures. When chicken and other meats are grilled, pan fried, or barbecued, these chemicals are produced. Every KFC sample also tested positive for at least one additional HCA.

As mutagens, HCAs can bind directly to DNA and cause mutations—the first step in cancer development. Recent studies have shown that the consumption of well-done meats is associated with an increased risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, esophagus, lung, larynx, pancreas, prostate, stomach, and breast.

Protecting Consumers
This ad for Kentucky Grilled Chicken began appearing in 2009PCRM is suing KFC under a California public health law known as Proposition 65. The law states that consumers must be warned about products that contain known carcinogens. PhIP has been on California’s list of cancer-causing chemicals for more than a decade.

KFC is not the only restaurant serving carcinogen-containing grilled chicken. Last year, PCRM filed suit against McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Chili’s, T.G.I. Friday’s, Outback Steakhouse, Burger King, and Applebee’s for knowingly exposing customers to PhIP without warning them of its risks.

The lawsuit is based on independent laboratory tests that found PhIP in 100 grilled chicken samples from the seven restaurant chains. Burger King was the first of the restaurants to settle the lawsuit. As part of its agreement with PCRM, Burger King has posted warning signs in its California restaurants to alert customers that its grilled chicken products contain PhIP.

But KFC and the other six defendants continue to fight the lawsuits and have yet to inform customers about the cancer-causing chemicals in their products.

KFC ad for sandwich substituting chicken for buns

Double Take
KFC just rolled out another new product in select markets. The Double Down “sandwich” substitutes fried chicken for buns and is stuffed with bacon and two kinds of cheese. KFC has not yet released nutrition facts on the Double Down, but an independent analysis conducted by The Vancouver Sun estimated that the product exceeds the daily recommended allowances of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. The item appears to compare closely to the total fat, salt, and calorie counts of three McDonald’s Big Macs.

Neal Barnard, M.D.
Neal Barnard, M.D.

Grilled chicken contains carcinogens, and consumers deserve to know it.

Good Medicine: Cancer in a Bucket: PCRM turns up the heat on KFC's new grilled chicken

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