Burger King’s legal defense in Impossible Whopper case – it never said they were vegan

Sometimes I’m genuinely surprised by responses to a story, which was the case when I first covered the news that Burger King was being sued for their Impossible Whoppers. It’s stated in the introductory Burger King promotional material that the Impossible Whoppers are 0% beef, however they’re cooked on the same broilers as BK’s meat products, meaning that they do pick up beef fat and trace amounts of beef. This was not disclosed to consumers in their menu. As someone who is allergic to beef, this is incredibly dangerous for me however I always inform restaurants about my allergy. The one time I had an Impossible Burger the BK staff was very accommodating and it was cooked in a microwave. A vegan man found out the hard way that the Impossible Burgers are cross contaminated with beef after eating one in Atlanta. He ended up suing them for not informing him of this, and that suit is now underway.

When I reported this, many people found it wrong that vegetarian and vegan people would want a company to inform them that burgers advertised as 0% beef were not actually 0% beef. This is baffling to me because Burger King is a huge company with so many layers of people and they should have anticipated this. Don’t put it on the consumer to do something a billion dollar corporation should have considered a no-brainer. Burger King’s latest defense in their lawsuit is that they did not explicitly call the burger vegan. They also said that the consumer needs to ask how the burger is cooked and that they disclosed that under an asterisk on their launch site for the burger.

In a court filing on Thursday, Burger King said the lawsuit should be thrown out because plaintiff Phillip Williams should have asked how Impossible Whoopers were cooked before ordering, Reuters reports.

Williams said his Impossible Whopper was “coated in meat by-products” after purchasing the burger at an Atlanta drive-thru. He and vegans all over the country became outraged at Burger King’s cooking practices.

Williams “assumed that an Impossible Whopper would satisfy his own particularly strict form of veganism … solely because he asked a Burger King restaurant employee to ‘hold the mayo,’” Burger King said. “This claim has no basis.”

What’s more, the company said Williams would have known how the Impossible Whopper was prepared had he done the “smallest amount of investigation” on its website or by reading media reports.

In his lawsuit, Williams claims in the lawsuit that Burger King’s menu makes no “disclosures on its menu” that the patty-cooking method would “result in meat by-products on the burger.”

However, the fast-food chain did previously disclose that the (not entirely) vegan burger would be made in an “open kitchen environment” and provided an asterisk on the product’s official launch page warning consumers of its cooking methods.

Burger King also confirmed that vegan or vegetarian guests can request their patties be prepared in an oven instead of in the shared broiler.

In his lawsuit, Williams is seeking damages and requesting Burger King cook the Impossible Whopper on an entirely different grill.

[From The NY Post]

This is a legal defense, I get it. They did advertise it as 0% beef though, which is practically the same as calling it vegetarian, if not vegan. I also get that people are going to defend Burger King for this and tell people who don’t eat meat for religious, moral or health reasons that they shouldn’t expect that their food doesn’t contain meat, even though it’s advertised as such. I hope this teaches Burger King a lesson. More importantly I hope all the other companies who try to make money off vegetarians and vegans realize that doing it half-assed like this will cost them.

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44 Responses to “Burger King’s legal defense in Impossible Whopper case – it never said they were vegan”

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  1. K says:

    As a former vegan, I wouldn’t assume something that said 0% beef was vegan. And I also wouldn’t assume there would be no cross contamination just because the product itself is being advertised at 0% beef. I just assume it means the actual ingredients to make the patty don’t include beef which I think is what they were going for..

    • Eliza_ says:

      I can’t have beef. All of these fast food places list online ingredients and state they are prepared in places where meat/dairy are as well. If you have food issues or are a serious vegan you’re used to looking things up and reading if there’s possible cross- contamination.

    • wellsie says:

      Yeah, totally. Meat free would mean closer to vegetarian, but it def doesn’t mean closer to vegan. However, I would be very surprised if Burger King, a huge company that spends big $ on product testing and environmental scans, wasn’t aware of vegan and vegetarian concerns with shared grills. Some execs just gave it the green light anyway and they are playing dumb.

      • Pineapple says:

        Yah, I take issue with this. You are so excited you blare on the packaging 100% free of beef … but then cook it on a beef coated grill???? That’s like making a nut free product but, oops, the facility has nuts in it. Don’t advertise something as 100% Beef free, loud and proud and then SMOTHER it in beef. That is idiotic and unethical. Y’all are just used to super poor, mediocre service.

        They are trying to benefit from the vegetarian market without doing the work. The billions fast food makes??? They can do better.

    • pottymouth pup says:

      is there any reference to the bun being vegan? did the guy ask to confirm the bun was OK? how did the guy find out about it being cooked on the same grill? did he ask after the fact – if so, why didn’t he ask beforehand?

      we have some local restaurants that serve impossible burger but the buns are not vegan – something my vegan friends were aware of because they asked. They also check with waitstaff about other things and will ask if there can be an alteration to make it vegan if they want to order something that has a non-vegan component; every restaurant we’ve gone to has been accommodating where they can

      • betsyd says:

        I had the same thought about the bun!

        Most folks practicing strict veganism aren’t likely to wager their lifestyle, dedication and principles by ordering a non-beef patty sandwich at a fast food (burger) joint.

    • caro says:

      I wish I could upvote this. If you are on a special diet and have specific allergies/needs, do your research. It’s not their job.

    • Mrs.Krabapple says:

      That would be my understanding as well. I mean, don’t all their burgers come with mayo? Mayo is not vegan. I think if anyone has special dietary needs, they need to be proactive (although I hate that word) and *ask.* Also, to assume a fast-food joint has a separate grill is naive. I would say the same if someone who keeps kosher decided to sue because they didn’t know that the same stove was used for pork. The restaurant doesn’t adverse as kosher, and it doesn’t advertise as vegan. The patty itself is not made out of beef. The preparation can change that, but ask.

    • Susan says:

      Not only that, but the burger as prepared included regular mayonnaise so it was always 100% apparent that the sandwich was never intended to be vegan.

  2. Becks1 says:

    So, I think BK should have been clearer and should indicate that it is cooked on the same griddle at all their restaurants, mainly bc of allergies like you said CB.

    But, I don’t think I would assume that something that was 0% beef would be vegan. Vegetarian, maybe, but not vegan. And it sounds like he didn’t specifically ask or tell them he was a vegan.

  3. Alarmjaguar says:

    I really like the IB ( I am not a vegetarian, but fast food burger beef is such poor quality I always feel gross after eating it) but now I am wondering if it was the delicious meat fat on the grill…

    • Turtledove says:

      THIS! I haven’t had one, but people I know have been saying how much it really tastes like meat. I bet the beefy fat that it was cooked in had a lot to do with that!

  4. Audrey says:

    It’s BURGER KING – their specialty is burgers. I am a former vegan (pescatarian now) and I wouldn’t assume anything from a fast food place (unless it’s a vegan fast food place) is vegan.

    That said, I had the IB and it was awesome! I think the mouthfeel and condiments are the stars of the show.

    • Astrid says:

      +1 If you have health issues, don’t eat at a fast food place. I thought the IB was very good as well.

    • Flamingo says:

      I’m in the same boat. When I was a strict vegetarian, unless a menu item spelled out that something was vegetarian/ vegan, I assumed there was some sort of meat product in it or that there could be cross contamination.

  5. DS9 says:

    It may be because I’ve worked in restaurants but I just assumed they were cooking it all on the same grill just like most restaurants do with everything, especially fast food.

    I definitely did not think they’d invested in separate grills for an item that was more of a lark than a real change.

    But I don’t remember them saying 0% beef, just plant based.

  6. paranormalgirl says:

    At the Burger King I go to, it was actually noted on the signage that the Impossible Whopper was cooked on the same broilers and that you could request the patty prepared in the microwave. Was it not like that everywhere?

    • JanetDR says:

      It’s been that way at several places I have gone to, and they often ask at the drive through window if I would prefer it be microwaved. I am not vegan, but vegetarian, and I am not a big fan of the burger, but it beats the garden burgers they used to serve by a mile! Road trips can be hard when your diet is in any way restricted. I often end up with oatmeal porridge from McDonald’s or Starbucks as my best choice.

  7. Carobell says:

    I am just baffled that anyone is surprised by cross contamination, when it’s a Burger King. Drive by a Burger King and all you smell is beef fat rendering. Also, we aren’t talking about a Michelin starred restaurant run by professional chefs. This is Burger King staffed by the minimum wage workers who were trained in food safety by a video made in 1998 and who would rather be anywhere else.

    • wellsie says:

      That’s true about the smell! I find it pretty gross. I’ve always wondered if they did that intentionally to lure people in, assuming it appeals to meat eaters, but maybe not?

      • Veronica S. says:

        It’s because the griddle has to be centrally located to keep the workflow running smoothly. It typically winds up being fairly close to the drive through windows simply because of how compactly they build the kitchens. Unless you’re visiting a very large location that’s more spread out, they’re more or less all designed the same.

      • Jackson says:

        It’s cooked on a grill grate, conveyor belt style, that moves over open flames. But just like a regular gas grill in your backyard, it has to vent somewhere, which accounts for the aroma outside.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    I assumed it was vegetarian, but not vegan.

  9. tx_mom says:

    Can’t we all chalk it up to a learning experience? I mean, I wouldn’t assume it’s vegan and prepared accordingly unless it said “vegan,” but I can see why this would be disappointing to actual vegans (or anyone keeping kosher or halal). On the Burger King side, I can see this as a learning experience. Yes, label it better now that you know this will upset some customers! But why does it have to be a lawsuit? Businesses change things all the time based on customer feedback.

  10. LidiaJara says:

    Yah I have to say I’m with Burger King here (did a decade as a vegetarian, but didn’t mind crosscontamination). Who assumes that a restaurant that is not significantly vegetarian is using separate griddles? No restaurant I’ve worked at does this. They also often use the same knife on regular and gluten-free bread, which makes it not gluten-free anymore.

    I would guess here in California we have more vegans / vegetarians per capital than any state, and our menus reflect that, but unless the menu is littered with those little “V” and “VG” symbols, in my experience, it’s one griddle.

    And the symbols are also cultural, restaurants owned by people from different countries have different interpretations of how much “purity” it signifies.

    The burger probably is still 0% beef, if we’re rounding. I’m surprised BK doesn’t have a big menu note about allergies and crosscontamination? Most restaurants do, especially re: peanuts.

  11. StormsMama says:

    I don’t believe he has a strong case at all

    Did he inform his server (via drive thru) that he had an allergy (or was a strict vegan as it may be)? No

    Did he ask how the burger would be prepared? No

    Did BK state the item was vegan? No just plant based or 0 beef. Not the same.

    This lawsuit seems at best an attempt to force BK to embrace veganism ; yet they just entered the arena. If he is hoping to move the movement forward (vegetarian and vegan) then Maybe this will get BK to be more clear
    But honestly this seems like a frivolous overzealous lawsuit by a guy that couldn’t even be bothered to get out of his car to order his food or specify to the server that he has strict dietary requirements.

  12. Ang says:

    If you are allergic to beef…don’t go to a beef restaurant!! It’s that easy. The whole world can not cater to everyone’s allergies and preferences. People need to take more responsibility for their own lives and not expect every company or corporation to coddle them. Our society is so freaking spoiled.

    • Bettyrose says:

      A million times this. This is so opportunistic without consideration for the risk that Bk will just say screw it and pull the IB.

    • Desmond says:

      This, 100%. We are so spoiled as a society.

    • Emilia says:

      This! My dad has a wheat allergy (not celiac) and had a fit on a plane that was peanut free because the replacement snack was ritz crackers. I was mortified when he complained to the flight attended and exclaimed he had an allergy too and where was his special treatment. It’s not like he’ll go into anaphylactic shock if someone eats a cracker next to him and it was only a 2 hour flight, you really can’t go 2 hours without a little bag of 8 peanuts?!

    • Susan says:

      Also, if you are a vegan maybe you shouldn’t be financially supporting a business that is based on selling meat products.

  13. Emily says:

    If people can request it be cooked in the oven to avoid contamination, then why not always cook it in the oven?

    I’ve worked in a fast food chain 13 years ago before veggie burgers were popular and we used the same grill but had an area reserved for chicken or veggie patties and cleaned it before grilling BUT it would be impossible to say that it came into contact with no meat at all. Nowadays with the popularity of meatless products, I would assume fast food chains would do better.

    • DS9 says:

      It’s not an oven, it’s a microwave and microwaved foods, especially beef is usually subpar and I’m sure the grill is part of the flavoring process

    • Jackson says:

      Part of why the IB tastes so good is because it is flame-grilled, not microwaved. Sure, if someone wants to request it made like that, fine. But otherwise, no way.

  14. Bettyrose says:

    I’m vegan for ethical reasons and subscribe to the 90% vegan principle: i.e. better mostly vegan than not vegan. I would never have assumed lack of cross contamination. And frankly I don’t have any desire to even touch greasy surfaces inside a BK location. But I hate that people are suing. The popularity of the Impossible Burger has the potential to reduce animal suffering, and I don’t want additional vendors to be afraid of adding it to the menu.

  15. lucy2 says:

    Unless something specifically says Vegan, I would never assume that it was. And when a serious dietary issue is in question, like an allergy, always best to ask and protect yourself. I can’t have artificial sweeteners or cashews – if I’m not sure, I check. Same for my friend with Celiac’s.

    BK definitely could have been clearer, and could instruct their staff to check how someone wants it prepared, but given that they never claimed it to be vegan, I don’t see how they lose this lawsuit. But if it results in better practices, great.

    • Bettyrose says:

      Agreed that BK could have done more but I also think any of us with dietary restrictions (whether health, religious, or philosophical) knows to ask questions before ordering.

  16. Kk2 says:

    This is a frivolous lawsuit for a variety of reasons.

  17. Veronica S. says:

    I can see the frustration over the allergen aspect of it i.e. cross contamination, but most people with serious issues are well aware to ask in advance. That’s just the unfortunate reality of GI disorder/immune disease. The world will not cater to you or isn’t educated enough to do it, so you have to be vigilant in protecting yourself.

    But I will state that I’m baffled why anyone would assume it’s vegan. Like…most veggie burgers notoriously are NOT because they usually use eggs as a binding agent to allow it to hold shape. Pretty much anybody who has done vegetarian/vegan diets knows this.

    • Turtledove says:

      Agreed. I also feel like if i were ALLERGIC to beef, I might skip BK altogether. It’s fast food, there’s a drive through, lots of kids working there…just too much room for error. I don’t do fast food much in general, but if I were to add up all the times I asked for a diet coke and got regular, or wanted sweet and sour for my nuggets and got BBQ or no sauce? I wouldn’t be trusting them with something that could actually HARM me.

  18. ME says:

    Here in Canada, BK has been selling a veggie burger for years(it’s called the BK Veggie). It is soy based (unlike the American version which I believe is mostly mushed vegetables?). No one has ever tried to sue them regarding their veggie burger (and I am sure it also gets cooked on the same grill as the beef burgers unless you ask it be microwaved). So I just don’t understand why the big lawsuit now over the Impossible Whopper (which is really just another veggie burger).

  19. Kristen says:

    While BK has (at least in some locations) information inside and on their website about cooking methods, I don’t believe there’s any in the drive-thru. The lawsuit is also alleging that their marketing practices are deceptive, because Impossible Burger is vegan. So to take a vegan product (that people commonly know is vegan), advertise it as 100% meat free, and then to add meat by-product in the cooking process is knowingly misleading customers.

  20. MellyMel says:

    This is the silliest lawsuit. It was never marketed as vegan. It was marketed towards ppl who don’t eat meat but miss having burgers and/or ppl who are trying to cut back on meat consumption. Why anyone would think Burger King or any other fast food burger joint to have a 100% vegan burger is beyond. I mean it even has mayo on it! And like some others mentioned, my local BKs had a notice that this could be made vegan (cooked in the microwave, no cheese or mayo) upon request. I’m a pescatarian and I’ve had the burger a few times and it’s really good.