Cheesegate: Why a Lawsuit Prompted McDonald's to Discontinue Its Mozzarella Sticks

The integrity of McDonald's mozzarella sticks was once the subject of litigation.
The integrity of McDonald's mozzarella sticks was once the subject of litigation. / Igor Dutina/Getty Images (Mozzarella Sticks) // Matthew Horwood/Getty Images (McDonald's Sign)

Trouble seems to bloom for McDonald’s when the company attempts to pivot away from its trademark hamburger and fries menu. Their vaunted McPizza, meant to satiate American appetites for pies, was a famous flop.

In 2015, the company tried another cheese-laden offering: three mozzarella sticks for $1.39. So why aren’t they still available? Call it a case of alleged cheese fraud.

According to Mashed, the sticks—which are commonly found as restaurant appetizers on checkered tablecloths—debuted nationally at McDonald's in 2016 and were almost immediately scrutinized by fast food critics on social media for being mostly devoid of cheese. Photos of the sticks with their breaded exteriors looking hollowed out popped up, prompting people to question why the franchise was being stingy with the mozzarella.

"Fried air," they complained.

McDonald’s attempted to quell the bad buzz by claiming the cheese had oozed out of the sticks during the preparation process, a production error it promised it would resolve.

But that wasn't apparently a satisfying answer. Cheesegate was soon followed by a lawsuit filed in California in which a disgruntled consumer claimed the restaurant was marketing 100 percent real mozzarella despite the cheese being partially made up of starch. He alleged the product was therefore “adulterated” and “misbranded,” adding filler to increase profits.

“… 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,’” the complaint read. The suit sought class-action status on allegations of false advertising and breach of express warranty, among other counts.

McDonald’s responded to press inquiries by stating that “our mozzarella cheese sticks are made with 100 percent low moisture part skim mozzarella cheese. We intend to defend ourselves vigorously against these allegations.”

The case was voluntarily dismissed in October 2016, with no reward obtained by either party. Not surprisingly, the sticks shortly disappeared from the company’s menu in North America, though they’ve periodically popped up in Australia—complete with tomato chili dipping sauce.

[h/t Mashed]