McDonald's Cooperates in Food Probe as Korea Halts Bulgogi Burger Sales

McDonald’s Corp.’s South Korean unit is cooperating with government authorities investigating a possible food-contamination case that prompted the company to suspend sales of its bulgogi burger.

South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety has started a probe into the cause behind some customers taking ill after consuming food at a McDonald’s restaurant in Jeonju, located south of Seoul, said Shin Yeong-min, a spokesman for food issues. Typical investigations take at least a week, he added. McDonald’s said it has halted sales of the bulgogi burger as a precaution till the cause of the illness is determined.

“We take these matters very seriously,” McDonald’s Korea said in a statement Monday. “And are cooperating with the government authorities’ investigation to identify the cause of the illness of those who visited the restaurant in Jeonju.”

Seven elementary school students and their teacher claimed they suffered symptoms of enteritis after eating bulgogi burgers at the restaurant last week, according to Yonhap News. Sales of the burger were suspended starting Saturday, it said.

A representative for McDonald’s Korea said the incident is unrelated to a complaint in July from a Korean family who claimed their daughter became ill after eating an undercooked hamburger patty, according to media reports. Several other customers filed complaints against McDonald’s Korea at the time, saying they had also become ill after consuming its food.

The watchdog group Korea Consumer Agency in July tested several fast-food burgers and found the ones at McDonald’s Korea contained more than three times the legal amount of food poisoning bacteria, according to the Korea Times. McDonald’s Korea fought the claims, saying the agency’s inspectors did not follow correct procedure to inspect their burgers, the Times said.

McDonald’s set up in South Korea in 1988 during the Seoul Olympics and in 1997 introduced the bulgogi burger, inspired by the country’s grilled marinated beef. The Oak Brook, Illinois-based company categorizes South Korea as a high-growth market, which means it has higher potential for expansion.