Prosecutors have reopened the investigation of McDonald’s in South Korea for its alleged link to a recent case of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) – a life-threatening condition known as “hamburger disease” caused by a strain of E.coli.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office issued a seizure and search warrant for the McDonald’s South Korean headquarters in Jongno district of Seoul on Tuesday, allowing the authorities to obtain internal data and other documents related to the cases, such as books on food material management, the South Korean newspaper Kyunghyang reported.
The investigation first began in 2017 after a complaint from a mother in the country who claimed her four-year-old daughter had developed a HUS after eating an undercooked meat pie sold by the fast food chain.
Later complaints were filed by the parents of at least four other children who fell ill after consumer burgers from McDonald’s in South Korea.
In August 2017, guests at a McDonald’s in the city of Jeonju in the western region of South Korea also reported stomach pains and high fever after eating Bulgogi burgers. The chain temporarily suspended the sale of the burgers in order to determine the cause.
The public prosecutor’s office did not bring charges against the burger chain because there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations. Three officers of a McDonald’s burger patty supplier were charged with violating hygiene control and food safety regulations.
The investigation was reopened last October after several activist groups filed a complaint against McDonald’s South Korea, the Patty supplier and government officials over allegations involving violation of the country’s food hygiene law and negligence, the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
An agreement was reached last November, with McDonald’s South Korea agreeing to pay all medical bills for the child’s treatment, including future expenses, Yonhap reported.
In a statement issued at the time, the company stated: “The two sides agreed to focus on the treatment of the child without involving any third party or organization. The two sides agreed not to discuss the issue further”.
Washington Newsday has contacted McDonald’s for comment.
E.coli are found in the intestines of humans and animals and are also found in food.
“Two types of E. coli that cause diarrheal diseases diagnosed in the U.S. are shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) and enterotoxic E. coli (ETEC),” according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Most E. coli are harmless, but some cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory diseases, bloodstream infections and other diseases. About five to ten percent of people diagnosed with STEC O157 infection develop HUS,” the CDC notes.