It is a scenario that many manufacturers and operators feared was only a matter of time — a customer has taken legal action against a restaurant after alleging a plant-based patty he ordered was cooked on the same grill used for meat.
In a move that could have huge implications for future commercial kitchen design and equipment specification, a proposed class action filed in the US by Philip Williams against Burger King states that the way the chain’s ‘Impossible Whopper’ is grilled leaves it “coated in meat by-products”.
According to a report by the BBC this month, the lawsuit filed in a Miami federal court claims the burger chain does not clearly advertise that the plant-based burgers are cooked with meat.
Mr Williams says that he visited a drive-through restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, and ordered the Impossible Whopper without mayonnaise. He claims that at no point was he told the Whopper was cooked on the same grill as the meat burgers, adding that, had he known, he would not have ordered it.
Mr Williams is said to want damages for everyone in the US who bought the Impossible Whopper, as well as an injunction requiring Burger King to “plainly disclose” that the vegan burgers and meat burgers are cooked on the same equipment.
The BBC said Burger King had not commented on the matter, but noted that the small print on its website says people wanting a meat-free option can request “a non-broiler method of preparation”.
One multi-site operator told me recently that the growth in veganism and an increased focus around allergens was making it think very carefully about the need for separate pieces of equipment to prevent cross-contamination.
It said one of the main challenges was finding room in kitchens that are already squeezed for space.
A raft of cooking equipment manufacturers claim to have developed multi-chamber ovens and other appliances to assist with this.
Applications that allow kitchens to segment cooking and preparation processes will take on extra significance going forward. Many chains have reviewed their processes in the wake of some well-documented allergen cases.
Situations like the Burger King one are bound to intensify the focus on this even further.