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15/03/04 . By Sean Poulter Consumer Affairs Correspondent . Daily Mail . UK
The invisible extra with a Happy Meal McCarrot
McDonald's is putting a gloss on the fruit and vegetables added to its menu by coating them in processing agents to extend their shelf life.
The crunchy carrot sticks being introduced into its children's Happy Meals range are dipped in hydrogen peroxide - commonly used in the past as hair bleach.
The chemical is mixed with acetic acid and sprayed on the carrots. This keeps them looking fresh and means they do not shrivel or become tainted with fungus before they reach consumers.
McDonald's has not stopped there in its efforts to give that 'just picked' look to its new healthy options.
Mothers might have wondered how slices of apple and grape sold by the company in fruit bags look so fresh and good.
The answer is that they are dipped in vats of citric acid and ascorbic acid to prevent the normal process of browning and shrivelling. The chemical coatings are not technically preservatives and do not have to be listed as ingredients.
There is no suggestion that the chemical processing agents are at all unhealthy. They might even increase the safety of the fruit and veg by effectively sterilising them and killing any bugs.
However, the details will surprise parents, who have been given the message that McDonald's wants to play its part in a healthy and honest food revolution. This includes adding salads, organic milk and free-range eggs to menus.
Hydrogen peroxide was first used in high concentrations in World War II as a fuel for rockets and torpedoes. Citric acid is produced on an industrial scale by fermenting cane sugar, molasses and dextrose by use of the fungus Aspergillus niger.
Ascorbic acid is commonly known as vitamin C, although it is artificially manufactured and missing some of the chemical constituents of the vitamin.
Mother-of-two Sarah Wicks, from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, said she became suspicious of the McDonald's fruit after one of her daughters received one in a Happy Meal box after a friend's party. 'Just as an experiment, I took the apple and grapes out to see what would happen. Rather than turning brown and shrivelling up the apple remained white for days. It wasn't natural or normal.'
Mrs Wicks, whose daughters are eight and four, said: 'I don't see why they couldn't put a fresh apple into the Happy Meals, even better an organic apple.'
The multi-national company Del Monte supplies McDonald's both with the fruit bags and the bags of carrot sticks. A spokesman for McDonald's insisted the processing chemicals were good news for consumers.
She said the carrots are sold in restaurants within three days of being harvested, although it could well take longer for the apples and grapes depending on the season and source.
'The apples and grapes are dipped in a mixture of ascorbic acid, which is vitamin C, and citric acid. That is used to prevent them turning brown, primarily. We store them chilled between 2-4 centrigrade to ensure freshness and shelf life.