PF Changs Gets Sued…For Charging $1 Extra …To Keep Us Safe

pf changs gluten lawsuit

When I first started blogging, I had this brilliant idea. I was going to do an exposé on how expensive gluten-free food was. I was gonna go to my local grocery store and take pictures of the prices of regular chocolate chip cookies compared to gluten-free chocolate chip cookies; regular bread and gluten-free bread; regular bottled water and gluten-free bottled water (just seeing if you’re paying attention.)

My goal was to show the world (or the 25 daily visitors I had at that time) what a rip off these companies were and how crappy it was that they were taking advantage of those who need to be gluten-free.

Wow…what an arrogant ass I was (am??). Thank god I didn’t do the post.

Here’s the deal folks. It costs more money to make gluten-free food. Period. End of story. The ingredients…the preparation…the facility. And as celiacs, we need to bear the brunt of those extra costs. That’s life.

Now are some companies totally ripping us off? Absolutely. That’s the American way. But it’s our choice to support those companies or not.

But you better believe I’m willing to pay a little more in order not to get my ass kicked by gluten. And that is why the ridiculous lawsuit against PF Changs pisses me off to no end.

If you are not familiar with the case, here’s a quick recap.

A woman by the name of Anna Marie Phillips is suing P.F. Chang’s over the prices of their gluten-free options. She believes that the surcharge on the restaurant’s gluten-free menu “violates the Americans with Disabilities Act” by forcing those who cannot eat gluten to pay more. Currently, P.F. Chang’s charges gluten-free diners an additional dollar per item, compared to the regular versions of the dishes. The lawsuit argues that the pricing discriminates against consumers with celiac disease. Phillips hopes to bring a class-action lawsuit “on behalf of diners with celiac disease or gluten intolerance who ordered items from P.F. Chang’s gluten-free menu.” The lawsuit also asks for an injunction against the chain to stop them from continuing to enforce the surcharge, restitution for all surcharges paid, and compensatory damages. The hearing is set for May 2015. (source:

I don’t know about you, but the petty Miss Phillips does NOT speak on my behalf and I think this lawsuit is absolutely f*cking ridiculous and makes the celiac community look like a bunch of whiners.

PF Changs was the very first restaurant I went to after my diagnosis. I cannot tell you how anxious I was that night. Eating out, something I had done for so many years without thinking, now was an exercise in fear. And PF Changs took all of that fear away.

And while I do not eat there any more (for reasons not gluten-related), I am still appreciative of what they do and how serious they take our infliction.

As I said…it costs money to do it right. They need to train their staff, have their kitchen set up properly to avoid cross-contamination, buy the gluten free ingredients. And this woman thinks paying $1 extra…one friggin’ dollar…is unfair and worth litigation?

All this is going to do is make other restaurants think long and hard about whether offering gluten-free food is worth the hassle.

The good news is that it seems the majority of the celiac community hates the lawsuit.

The bad news is that it’s still going to trial.

And if PF Chang’s loses…we all lose.

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41 thoughts on “PF Changs Gets Sued…For Charging $1 Extra …To Keep Us Safe”

  1. But it’s the American way to sue anyone for anything at any time.

    I’m in complete agreement with you. I’m SO grateful for the places that DO offer TRUE gluten free meals that I gladly pay more! I did happen to get glutened at PF Chang’s last week however (no idea how) but I will still go there. 99% of the time my meals have been safe.

    I sure hope she doesn’t win. It reminds me of the McDonald’s coffee too hot lawsuit. Stupid waste of time and taxpayer dollars.

    1. Responding to your McDonalds comment – late night talk show hosts made a mockery of a legit complaint – 8 days in the hospital and skin grafts was not a frivolous lawsuit. She was not the first to have been burned by the scalding coffee – but hopefully the last. (Google it ) The lawsuit against PF Changs is in my opinion definitely a waste of time.

  2. Totally agree with you. When I saw this it really bummed me out as they are one organization that has really shown they are dedicated to respecting this illness and I am very grateful for that. I only hope that it does not discourage other companies from trying.

    1. In Canada we can claim the incremental cost of gluten free food as a medical expense on our taxes. However, you need to have a very low income and buy a lot of gluten free food to qualify. (I’ve often wondered how anyone with an income low enough to qualify could possibly buy enough GF food to get to the minimum expenses threshold).

      A few years ago at a celiac conference in Canada there was a presentation by one of the producers of gluten free oats here. The presentation was titled something like ‘the price for purity’ and it was eye-opening in terms of the procedures and associated costs that these producers deal with. But as a result, I have no problem paying more for my oats (and other GF food) because I know they’re safe. There is a price for purity and I’m more than happy to pay it.

      I hate this lawsuit. I think she would have a case if the restaurant charged different prices to people who require gluten free food vs. those who chose to eat it. But that’s not what is happening. And personally, I don’t think I have a disability because of celiac.

      1. I’m in Canada, too, Else and I agree that very few would be able to take advantage of our gluten free tax credit (which as you correctly note is rolled into overall med expenses). For starters only medically documented celiacs are eligible; those who are unDX’ed (because, e.g., of unwillingness to do a gluten challenge) or with NCGI do not qualify. But even then you can’t claim the full incremental cost of your GF food; there’s a deductible of 3% of your income (up to an inflation-indexed max deductible that currently sits at $2171 for 2014). Once that’s subtracted, you only get back 15% of what’s left.

        So for example, if your total incremental GF claim is $1600 (with no other medical expenses) and you earn $50k, you have a deductible of $1500, which leaves $100 that you can claim and you get back $15 of it — or less than 1% of your $1600 claim (there’s a similar claim at the province level but it’s generally an even lesser amount). I’d say most folks would be better off just using coupons when you can find them and keeping an eye out for sales.

        The only way I can see anyone benefitting from the GFTC is if there’s a family with at least one or two kids and one parent who are all documented celiacs. Then the lower earning parent (i.e., with the lower deductible, and assuming it’s a 2-parent family) can claim the whole family’s medical expenses and then when the GF expenses are included it might come into play. And even then, it’s a non-refundable credit, meaning that if you already have enough other credits to reduce your income tax bill to or near zero (which is not impossible when you have kids and a modest income), you only get back the part that vanishes the last bit of your income tax. The gov’t doesn’t cut you a cheque for the remainder.

        In short, the system is rigged. 🙂

        I’ll defer to the mostly American audience members here who would be more familiar with the details but my understanding is that US GFTC eligibility is even more onerous, with a 10% deductible, and seniors getting a small break at 7.5% (are these the normal deductibles on all med exp’s like the 3% in Canada?). Either way, there’d be no benefit from the $1600/$50k example I gave above. A non-senior single person would need a $5000 increment before they see the first penny of a refund. I don’t know about anyone else, but my *entire food bill* for the year (forget the increment!), for me personally, wouldn’t even reach that.

        There’s another side to this GFTC issue and that’s the question of whether gov’ts ought to be subsidising celiacs to eat things like gluten free doughnuts when there are plenty of healthy, naturally GF foods that one can eat, but which are credit-ineligible. I think the current structure of it could be viewed (whether or not it was intended as such) as a “social engineering” attempt at encouraging celiacs to eat healthier diets and helping out only those in the most extenuating of circumstances as in the parent + 2 kids example I gave above.

        Getting back on topic to this lawsuit, I agree with the consensus here that it’s frivolous. I’d go even farther than that and argue that PFC has the right model that ALL restaurants should be emulating as far as its GF offerings go. The extra $1 or $2 surcharge is something that could technically be claimed in the GFTC if one wishes to do so. My understanding is PFC levies this charge on (possibly among other things) dishes that are naturally GF but which might otherwise be at risk of cross-contamination.

        The transparency of this billing procedure might also help stigmatise GF faddists from unnecessarily insisting on GF fare by forcing them to pay more for it. Would they bother paying extra on a naturally GF dish just to avoid CC when it’s not really a medical concern for them? Conversely, a legit GF diner who insists on the surcharged version of the nominally GF dish to ensure no CC is the diner whose dietary concerns will be taken seriously, to the extent that the restaurant (hopefully!) takes these concerns seriously at all.

      2. You can claim the difference in cost between regular and GF/special diet food on your US taxes too if it is medically necessary. You add it in with medical expenses. It only helps if you itemize on your taxes and if I remember correctly the medical costs have to exceed 7.5% of your AGI… something like that. I may be way off on that percentage…

  3. I agree 100% with you. Should we, as a community, be contacting PF Chang, perhaps thru FB or something, so express ‘solidarity’ with them?

    I don’t live in the US; I wouldn’t know a PF Chang’s if it bit me, but that’s completely beside the point. Outlets like Chang’s need to be encouraged by the very folks they cater for.

    1. I tweeted them the link but they won’t respond since it’s in litigation. I think they know they have the community’s support, but will they have the judge’s is the big question.

    2. Ivan – There was a Dine Gluten Free movement (#DIneGF) about a month ago started by G-Free Foodie to show support for P.F. Chang’s and other restaurants that have gluten free options. Gluten Dude – great post! I have been waiting to see if you would weigh in on this issue. 🙂

  4. I think its ridiculous what this woman is doing. It’s $1. That’s like, 1/5 of a Starbucks bill. I was happily surprised it wasn’t more – many of the restaurants around here charge $2, $3 for the surcharge.

    If anything, my only minor complaint with PF Changs is that I wish they would rotate some new dishes in on the menu for delivery. It’s frustrating when everyone is getting sushi that looks like it could easily be gluten free but isn’t! In the restaurant, I can get pretty much anything I want safely and tastily.

  5. I have been sick at PF Chang’s so many times that I gave up. I only do dedicated places now, which is severely limiting.

    I don’t think that the extra dollar is providing the value of helping to keep me safe. I have had my food deliberately messed with at PF Chang’s by staff – finding a noodle under all my food. What the hell?

    I used to really be into them, though. Did I mind the dollar when I thought that I was buying a decent, safe night out at a place I would rather not eat at if I had a choice? No, I didn’t mind at all. I’d by far rather be eating at a real Cantonese place with much better food. But, I can’t. So, the dollar was fine to feel normal.

      1. The PF Chang’s in Pittsburgh’s Waterfront Mall does gluten free amazingly well. I have eaten there for years and they’ve taken great care to make sure my meal was safe. It takes longer and costs a dollar more to get a gluten free meal prepared because, according to the manager, they clean the preparation area for every gluten free meal they make.

        Now, that said, I don’t have a problem paying them an extra dollar for that service. However, I think this works both ways. If you’ve paid that extra money and then they go and gluten you — THEN I feel you have a right to sue! Seriously, you paid them for a service that they did not deliver. The fact that it’s “only” a dollar makes no difference. That dollar is a contract between you and PF Chang’s to deliver safe food. They’ve breached the contract! Case closed, next case! 🙂

        Where’s Judge Judy when you need her?

      2. I have tried their gluten free food. I found it to be extremely and overly sweet. I also suffer from hypoglycemia and I felt that it put my blood sugar levels in a spin and although the food tasted good and I didn’t get a gluten reaction, I found the food to not be filling or satisfying. I was hungry only a couple hours later.

  6. all PF Chang’s really needs to do is show the additional training and equipment costs that go into a GF dish that do not apply to a regular dish. I’m also not sure that the ADA has been tested in court for accessibility in private businesses. So, this is a case to watch for sure along with other business cases like same sex marriage couples being denied the purchase of wedding cakes because of their protected status. I tried to get a kitchenette room when I was working on a Federal contract, and, trust me, NO ONE is up on this being an accessibility or equal opportunity problem for us.

  7. Betsy in Michigan

    Ya know, I find PF Chang’s to be too expensive for a Chinese restaurant ANYWAY. I’d much rather go to a regular Chinese restaurant (especially one I trust to understand that I don’t want soy sauce in anything). But I think Starbuck’s is over rated and overpriced, too. Give me a nice family-run Indian restaurant any day.

  8. Of all the places to chose to fight this! I figure I have a choice about whether or not I go to PFChang’s or the local Italian place – well that really isn’t a tough decision. I also have a choice about making my own GF cookies (same price as glutenfull ones for homemade) or if I am willing to pay $7 a bag at Whole Foods. I hope the court throws this out immediately. At least PFC is trying and I appreciate that. Trying counts for a whole lot.

  9. im gonna play devils advocate here… I get what she’s saying. Don’t get me wrong, I am more than happy to pay extra to have safe food. That being said 3 outa 4 people have celiac I my house, two of those persons are also dairy intolerant, and one of the gf/df people is allergic to latex which means there are a dozen more foods they can’t have. The ONLY thing we get upcharged on is gluten free… Dairy free is generally omitting things eating out but latex free generally requires more expensive fruits and vegetables than what’s originally offered. If PF Changs looses everyone or the over all allergy group of people will most assuredly lose in this and I would hate to see that happen… This women may be short sited but don’t vilify her, she does have a point.

    1. Fairly new to having celiac and I just reciently ate at PF Changs. The meal was $1 more and a great deal smaller than the same meal prepare the original way. I know this because my friend ordered it at the same time I did. ” The ADA should most definatly cover this situation. Had my meal been the same size along with being a $1 more I would still agree that the ADA should cover this situation. Same size meal plus $1 more I wouldn’t have caused a fuss over it. However I had a reaction to something in my GF meal at PF Changs. Along with all the nasty things that already affect my body having celiac, I go in to anaphylaxis also.
      Just my two cents on the matter. If you have a GF menue and are going to charge more make sure the meal truly is GF.

  10. I own a restaurant and I’m a celiac. I charge the one extra dollar for gluten free choices…only because my staff and I will prep your food safely and there IS extra labor involved to do so correctly. I have never had a complaint about the charge. This whole thing is really sad… If you are ever in Boulder Junction WI stop in and say hello. The Outdoorsman Restaurant will meet your celiac needs! The food will be great and the one dollar will be worth it.

  11. It’s ridiculous. It’s stories like these that make it alright, to me, to charge people extra for that peace of mind in knowing the restaurant is doing all they can to make sure you’re safe.

    Once again, it’s things like that which make “us” look bad. It makes it so though many other people could do the same thing with lots of other restaurants. There are burger places and sandwich shops that charge extra because of the product cost and the cost of them to take the time to be extra careful. Why wouldn’t you want that? And the whole disabilities act bugs me alone, because I HATE that people look at us like we have disabilities. It looks like we’re just a bunch of whiny bitches that no one can please. AND, it could potentially mean, if people continue to sue these restaurants, that no one will want to do it anymore because it causes a hassle. It causes extra work and effort for them to make it safe and then they sit get sued. It’s just. So. Dumb!

  12. GD-

    Missed u. Great post. Mother bleepers, wtf? It’s a buck. Tell the chick I will personally give her 365 dollars a year if she drops the idiot lawsuit and stops making us look like SOB’s.

    Whaddya think y’all?
    Jersey Girl

    “I will be your mocking jay.”
    Hunger Games

  13. Anna Marie Phillips, please drop this case immediately. You are not helping anyone here. Not Celiac’s and not P.F. Chang’s. This is a lose lose situation.

    When I was first diagnosed my GI doctor told me that because I had a disease that was treated through diet alone, that I needed to look at the extra cost of food as if it was buying my own personal medication. People pay exorbitant amounts for all kinds of prescribed pills/drugs and supplements, but God forbid you spend a little extra on bread. I happily pay extra for my health and safety and the truth is, the prices are getting better and better every year for gluten free items which is happy news for all of us! Also, we’re paying the exact same amount on naturally gluten free items as everyone else is which is better for us anyway. Potatoes, rice, quinoa, meat, cheese, vegetables, fruits, nuts, I could go on all day.

    GD, I’m so glad you are writing about this so that they can see she’s in the minority on this issue. Thank you.

  14. I agree with Gluten Dude too. It does suck that us Celiacs have to pay more to eat out, but I would rather pay an extra $1, than get sick! Not all restaurants charge extra for eating Gluten Free anyway. The key, is having safe food prepared and restaurants telling the truth. Just be honest with us!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE eating at PF Changs and love how considerate they are to the Celiac community.

  15. I, too, am going to play devil’s advocate, although I don’t agree that this lawsuit is the way to get restaurants to acknowledge our handicap and its’ resultant disability. And I know that many people do not feel they are “disabled”, or that they have “a handicap” because of Celiac Disease but, truth be told, we do. The definition of a disability or handicap includes the inability to be in all social situations without some form of “assistance”. Think of it like this … if their was a major disaster, we’d probably all be pretty much SOL. And that is a disability. The following is from a definition of handicap vs disability … “When systems are designed thoughtfully to accommodate the needs, challenges and varying degrees of ability of different people in society, people with disabilities can fully participate in (or use) these systems. One of the major goals of the disability rights movement is to raise awareness of how systems can (and should) be designed to serve all people, not just the majority of people who happen to have no significant impairments.” This, I believe, is the reason for the lawsuit. Like I said to begin with, I don’t feel this lawsuit against this restaurant is the way to gain the recognition of the fact that having this disease causes a social handicap, but the general public does need to be made a LOT more aware of how much this disease impacts our lives. Many people want to “buck up” and say that this disease is no big deal to them, “it is only food” and such, but the truth is, before restaurant owners started making room in their businesses for a wheelchair (meaning they had less room for tables and other paying customers) and going to the extra expense of putting in those rather large handicap stalls in the restrooms, people who had to be in a wheelchair could not go out to eat with friends and family. Their disability caused them to be handicapped at restaurants. Going out to eat is a very social aspect of being human … the gathering of friends and family to enjoy good food. We cannot do that with ease. That means we have a handicap. If a disaster struck, most all of the food that would be handed out would not be gluten free. That means our inability to eat what most all others eat gives us a handicap. So, I really do hate this lawsuit because I feel it just doesn’t bring the right kind of message about the disease, but I really do think that blowing us off by the general public … in workplaces, in restaurants, or anywhere else in this society … as just a group of people who want to eat different than most HAS TO END. While I have accepted that this is my life, and I no longer have the anger I used to have, I still feel that ANY medical condition which causes a person to not be able to participate in society “in the way most all other people can” should be treated as a handicap. We may not think of ourselves as having a handicap or a disability … and that is a great way to think when you have any condition which is challenging … but we are disabled in our ability to eat whatever is put in front of us if we had to. If we all try to be stoic about this, no one will take our dietary needs serious. Do we need to whine? NO. But we DO need to make it known that living with this disease in this world is not just difficult. It totally changes our lives. Not one of us has chosen to eat this way. And, we ARE handicapped by this inability to eat the foods most other people can eat.

  16. I’m not quite getting the basis for the complaint.* A GF meal is a different meal from the regularly served offerings. That said, how much you wanna bet the lawyer gets a settlement from PF Chang’s just to go away? Soon on the GF menu at PF Chang’s, a $1.50 surcharge as passed along by management.

    *not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong about suing. You just got to know your limitations, or something.

  17. Perhaps those who support this lawsuit should look at this from a different angle. I pay $1 to have a person watch my dish from kitchen to table. I don’t care if the ingredients are the same as what non-GF people eat. I’ve paid a small price..$1..for that unknown person or persons in the kitchen to watch carefully to ensure the food contains no gluten, is correctly plated onto a special colored plate to identify it as GF, gets wiped with a clean cloth, and has no “real” soy sauce is used. That $1 also trains all restaurant staff about the importance of those precautions and educates them as to what is safe and what is not.

    Whether or not they correctly perform that service for me can be debatable (and open to criticism), but charging for the training the service staff, kitchen staff, and me, the diner, of what is safe to eat and being vigilant of what comes to the table before allowing me to take that first bite is well worth a “service fee”.

    I also point out that no diner is required to enter P. F. Chang’s. It is still America and you have the freedom of choice whether or not to pay an extra fee. To sue one restaurant for providing a service that they do not have to provide harms us all. I understand that glutening may still happen. How many have had it happen in their own kitchen?? It’s not perfect. If this were an institution where Celiac/NGFS were required to eat (hospitals, jails, college cafeterias, etc.) I could see pulling the “disability” card, but not in a place where your presence is entirely optional and a free choice.

    My two cents.

  18. P.F. Chang’s is one of the only restaurants that our family will trust when we travel anywhere in the country. The only bad experience we have ever had with them was very early in our GF transition and we were still learning. Peace of mind, and the GI tract, is definitely worth more than $1 at our house.

  19. I wouldn’t sue over it, but I HATE when sushi restaurants charge more for gf soy sauce. Tamari generally isn’t more expensive than regular wheat-filled soy sauce, so charging me $2 for an ounce of Tamari is a bit over the top.

  20. All I can say is she must have too much time in life to waste with lawsuit? Disability act? Now that sucks. She wants to be part of disability world. What a ………. Disappointment.
    Law suits affect the whole family and usually not good experience.
    Now, I am not against one being on disability but from what I see, a lot of such persons CAN FUNCTION IN LIFE JUST FINE.
    I never even thought about gluten free food and tax deductions.
    I work in mental health, I understand what disability is defined as. So I have tooth, nail, skin, feet, joint pain–bad, another thing that popped up, anxiety, ataxia,insomnia and I would never consider myself disabled. That’s weird.
    For God sakes, drop the suit and eat somewhere else!

  21. Claiming that it is illegal under ADA act is wrong. Following that thought there is part of the law that addresses allowing extra costs due to disabilities.
    My background is travel and it was explained to me as if went to the beach and booked a parking lot view at the hotel for $100 and needed an ADA room. If the only ADA room was ocean view that sold for $200 they can’t double what you booked but can add 20% to cover the cost of the ADA accommodations.
    I hope PF Changs lawyers know of this and this gets thrown out. I dont mind paying an extra $1 to have the peace of mind that it was training and the extra food costs.

  22. We all know that the LAW and COMMON SENSE are mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, we are now formally defined as disabled under the ADA. It is legally under allergies which again, is legally very different from what we all understand as the difference between allergy and auto immune. But this decision has implications for every person who suffers with auto immune diseases. (See links and quotes at the end of this post.)

    This came out of an issue with Lesley University. They required all students to purchase the meal plan while refusing to provide adequate safe meals for those with allergies (again allergy as defined by the law). The university could have simply chosen to allow such students to opt out of the meal plan OR to provide safe nutritious meals. They choose to ignore this contractual obligation. The students choose to gather in an equally large organization to arbitrate – the Federal government of the U.S.A.

    P.F. Chang’s is just the start of the changes that will come from this Universities ill-advised refusal to behave in a civil manner and settle a contract dispute. But eventually, things will settle out and a new normal will be in place. I am sure some of it will be good and some will be negative. This is life. It ebbs and flows.

    Celiac’s simply have to continue to live our lives the best we can, advocate for our disease while being respectful towards others who struggle with chronic illness.

    I personally don’t frequent P.F. Chang’s. They often don’t bother to follow corporate policies.
    ***I receive my food on the regular plate. When I ask my server to have it refired, they “reassure” me that, “It looks like the GF version”. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t SEE gluten that easily. It’s not like it blue and red stripped.
    ***One young woman totally ruined my anniversary. She claimed an item is “naturally GF”. When it was served on the regular plate, I sent it back. She intercepted it, rudely stormed back to my table and loudly announced, “I said it is naturally GF”. The manager argued with me about the GF menu. When they finally brought an actual GF meal to me, it was clearly STALE and LEFTOVER. I did not eat it! I went hungry! That ruined $200 theater tickets (the fiasco with service made us too late to stop and purchase a decent meal for me. I ate the rescue food that I always keep in my car. But that is meant for rescue not a total meal to carry one thru a late night theater performance.)
    ***I receive my GF soup with crackers.
    ***The GF lettuce wraps were served with regular Soy Sauce.
    I expect that service to be performed with impeccability regardless of extra charges or absence of such.

    NOTES and LINKS:

    “In 2009, students from Lesley University in Massachusetts filed a charge of discrimination under the ADA, alleging that the university failed to make reasonable accommodations, with respect to meal plans and menu choices, to students with a disability in the form of a food allergy – gluten intolerance. The university food service and meal plan did not offer safe and nutritious meals for students with celiac disease and other types of food allergies, students with the allergies were not enjoying the full benefit of their education. Further, these students argued that they were not getting equal access to their education because they were not able to equally enjoy the university’s meal plan programs, which are a required part of enrollment and tuition. “

    “Some individuals with food allergies have a disability as defined by the ADA – particularly those with more significant or severe responses to certain foods. This would include individuals with celiac disease and others who have autoimmune responses to certain foods”

  23. Thanks, Gluten Dude. I agree on this topic whole-heartedly and have been arguing from this angle any time it comes up in conversation. Glad to have your points in my arsenal.

  24. So this PF Chang’s lawsuit was set to proceed in May but we’re into June now with no update that I could find from searching online. Wonder if it was quietly dismissed or settled out of court, or just simply delayed for some reason? Hope we get to hear how this ends (the right way, hopefully).

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