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Burger King Alerts Customers to Cancer-Causing Chemical in Grilled Chicken

no chicken sandwichPCRM recently found out that you really can “have it your way” at Burger King. The Miami-based company settled a lawsuit by agreeing to warn customers that its grilled chicken entrées contain PhIP, a cancer-causing compound. As part of its agreement with PCRM, Burger King has posted warning signs in its California restaurants.

PCRM filed suit against Burger King, along with McDonald's, Chick-fil-A, Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse, Chili’s Grill and Bar Restaurant, and T.G.I. Friday’s in January 2008 for knowingly exposing their customers to PhIP without warning them of its risks. The case was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court under Proposition 65, which was designed to protect the health and safety of California residents.

“Health-conscious Americans have long steered away from fried chicken, but they have no idea that grilled chicken may be as bad or worse,” said PCRM president Neal Barnard, M.D. “Burger King is doing the right thing by warning customers that its grilled chicken dishes contain dangerous carcinogens, and is a good example for the other restaurant chains to follow.”

PhIP is one of a group of carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines that are produced when meats are cooked at high temperatures, as in grilling or barbecuing. Chicken products are by far the leading contributor of this chemical in the American diet, yet most consumers are unaware of its presence.

Studies show that PhIP exposure is linked to many cancers, including breast, colon, bladder, and prostate cancers. In 2005, the federal government officially added PhIP to its list of anticipated human carcinogens, and PhIP has been on the state of California's list of chemicals known to cause cancer for more than a decade. Scientists have not found any level of PhIP consumption that is safe, meaning that any amount is believed to potentially increase cancer risk.

PCRM filed the suit after commissioning an independent laboratory in Washington state, Columbia Analytical Services, to test 100 grilled chicken samples purchased from chain locations throughout California. Every sample from every restaurant was found to contain PhIP.

The lab tested Burger King’s Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich. The company's broiled chicken sandwich, the BK Broiler, had not yet been introduced.

Studies show that broiled chicken can also contain PhIP. But PhIP is not present in the BK Veggie Burger or the Veggie Whopper, Burger King's meatless sandwiches, because PhIP forms only in animal protein.

Read more about PCRM’s PhIP study of grilled chicken entrées.

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

PCRM Online, December 2008

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