KFC China, a unit of Yum! Brands Inc., has sued three Chinese online companies for allegedly spreading false rumors that the chain used chickens with six wings and eight legs in its products and that maggots were included with a delivery order. The company claims that such rumors and accompanying photos had been spread via 10 WeChat accounts operated by Yingchenanzhi Success and Culture Communication, Shanxi Weilukuang Technology Co., and Taiyuan Zero Point Technology Co. ChinaKFC_406x250In addition, KFC China said it had identified 4,000 “defamatory messages” that were read more than 100,000 times as of the end of April. The complaint, recently filed with a court in Shanghai, is seeking up to 1.5 million yuan (about $242,000) in damages from each of the three companies, an apology, and an end to the alleged practices. In a release posted on KFC’s Chinese website, Qu Cuirong, the unit’s president, said the online material had “not only seriously misled consumers, but also hurt our brand.” KFC and other fast-food chains operating in China have taken hits in the recent past from a variety of food safety scandals. A major one occurred last summer after a TV report appeared to show workers at a KFC (and McDonald’s) meat supplier, the Shanghai Husi Food Co. Ltd., picking meat up off the factor floor and mixing expired meat in with fresh product. Both chains then broke ties with the supplier. There was also a Chinese media exposé in 2012 claiming that some KFC suppliers were using growth hormones and antibiotics in chickens. Those allegations spread online and further raised Chinese consumers’ concerns about food safety. Due to these and other widely publicized episodes, the Chinese government recently amended food safety law there by adding heavier penalties for violations. KFC China had more than 4,800 outlets in that country at the end of 2014 and is said to be opening hundreds more there each year. Sales had reportedly dropped since last summer, but the situation appeared to be gradually picking up in the first quarter of this year. Yum! Brands Chinese operations reportedly provide about half of the Louisville, KY-based company’s total revenue. In addition to KFC, Yum! also owns Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.