12 Controversies Involving Fast-Food Kids’ Meals

List Rules
Vote up the fast-food failures, misunderstandings, and calamities that kicked up dust and caused concern among parents.

If you're a millennial or Gen Z, then you probably know the sweet satisfaction of tearing into a McDonald's Happy Meal to discover that one toy you'd been wanting. As exciting as it may have been to get an extra treat with your McNuggets, not all toys included in kids' fast-food meals have been big hits - in the most extreme cases, some toys have resulted in injury and even death.

We've rounded up the biggest controversies involving fast-food kids' toys ranging from the tragic to the undeniably humorous.

  • Paint Used On ‘Shrek’ Cups Contained Toxic Metal Cadmium
    Photo: Shrek / DreamWorks Pictures
    433 VOTES

    Paint Used On ‘Shrek’ Cups Contained Toxic Metal Cadmium

    In 2010, McDonald's had to recall 12 million Shrek cups due to the use of cadmium in the paint. Cadmium is a metal that can leach into the skin and is considered toxic.

    McDonald's went as far as to offer $3 for every cup returned, which had sold for either $1.99 or $2.49. The recall was apparently one of several related to cadmium in children's toys and jewelry around that time.

    433 votes
  • 2
    421 VOTES

    Happy Meal Fitness Trackers Caused Burns And Rashes

    McDonald's had to recall their "Step-iT" wristbands in 2016 after 70 reports came in of children suffering blisters, burns, and other skin irritations from wearing the bands. One mother even complained about the wristbands on Facebook, and her post was shared 130,000 times.

    McDonald's eventually had to recall 29 million wristbands in the US alone. As a way to make up for the recall, McDonald's offered children replacement toys along with their choice of a yogurt tube or sliced apples.

    421 votes
  • 3
    397 VOTES

    Two Deaths Led To Burger King Recalling Poké Balls

    Burger King urged consumers to "destroy and discard" Poké Balls sold by the fast food establishment due to child deaths in December 1999 and January 2000. The Poké Balls reportedly became deadly when opened because one half could get stuck on a child's face.

    Both a 13-month-old and 4-month-old baby suffocated due to the Poké Balls. A third child almost died, but her father was able to remove the toy from her face. Twenty-five million Poké Balls were recalled as a result.

    397 votes
  • 4
    362 VOTES

    Two Children Choked On Scooter Bug Toys

    In 2001, McDonald's had to recall about 234,000 "Scooter Bug" toys, which had been designed for children under the age of 3. As it turned out, the bug's antenna could break off and become a choking hazard for children.

    The recall went into effect after reports came in of two children choking and one child "gagging" on the broken-off antennae.

    362 votes
  • 5
    336 VOTES

    Disney-Related Happy Meals Had QR Codes That Could Have Potentially Led To Kid-Unfriendly Sites

    McDonald's had to halt the distribution of Happy Meal toys and boxes due to a QR code error in 2020. The toys and boxes were part of a promotion for Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway and included a QR code for a contest.

    The codes worked as long as they were used in the official McDonald's app, but if just used with a camera phone, they could lead to "unintended search results," according to the official McDonald's statement.

    336 votes
  • 6
    375 VOTES

    Adults 'Ruined' The Pokémon Anniversary By Buying Dozens Of Limited-Edition Trading Cards

    In celebration of Pokémon's 25th anniversary, McDonald's launched a collection of Pikachu-themed Happy Meal boxes that contained four trading cards. Kids could collect up to 50 cards, but they were impossible to find because adults would buy a dozen Happy Meals at a time.

    On top of that, additional cards could be added to an order as a "side item." The cards often ended up for sale on eBay at a much higher price.

    375 votes