We’ve got the inside scoop on Mickey D’s.
We’ve told you why McFlurry spoons are hollow. Now watch as we penetrate the greatest mystery beneath the Golden Arches: Why the heck can’t we get a McFlurry, like, ever?
But just in case you missed it, here’s why those spoons are such an odd shape:
The Twitterverse is very aware of the problem. Take Twitterer @Brijahh_Booo, who, on Jan. 3, 2017, tweeted, “All I be wanting is a damn Mcflurry & the mf machine is down every single time I go.” Or listen to @Jilliebean02, who, less than a week later, tweeted, “Every time I want a McFlurry at this hour every McDonald’s ice cream machine is ‘down for maintenance.'”
It’s not an isolated problem. If you’re a fan of the sweet, smooth-and-crunchy icy sensation that is the McFlurry, you’ve almost certainly had this experience yourself.
There is a reason why. We can’t confidently call it a good reason since it seems like a company as successful as McDonald’s could engineer its way through anything, but it’s undeniably a reason.
First, though, let’s take a look at the scope of the problem.
If you listen to Twitter, McDonald’s ice cream machines never work. They only exist to taunt you with the hope of a milkshake or a McFlurry.
The only hard evidence we have about nonfunctioning ice cream machines comes from Richard Adams, a McDonald’s consultant who studied the effectiveness of McDonald’s kitchen equipment. In a 2000 survey of 100 McDonald’s locations, Adams found that a full 25 percent of the restaurants couldn’t serve ice cream at the time of his visit. The machines were down.
Adams shared his research with the Wall Street Journal, which published a blistering expose on The McFlurry Problem in January 2017. According to that article, “Last year, downed ice cream machines became the most common service-related complaint among McDonald’s customers on Twitter…”
This is an issue that’s inevitably costing the McDonald’s corporation some portion of the $255 million per year that they should be making on ice cream desserts.
Still, there’s no clear solution in sight. It looks like we just have to live with it, and the real reason McDonald’s ice cream machines never seem to work affects every single location, all around the world.
It’s an issue of cleanliness. More accurately, it’s an issue of cleaning.
According to the Wall Street Journal report, McDonald’s enforces a cleanliness protocol that requires every ice cream machine to go through an automated heat-cleaning cycle that lasts for four long hours. This ensures that your McFlurries are bacteria-free, which is nice, but it also raises the chance that you won’t be able to get your dessert in the first place.
A McDonald’s whistleblower named Sarah Vaught, who used to be a shift manager at a Mickey D’s in Carmi, Illinois, told the Wall Street Journal that the four-hour automated cleaning cycle was only a fraction of the downtime it took to keep the machines clean.
Before staff could even start the heat-cleaning interval, they had to go through a rigorous 11-step cleaning protocol of their own. They would have to mix a sanitizer with warm water, partially disassemble the machine, separately rinse at least seven components, and brush some internal bits for at least 60 seconds a piece. Then they had to wipe down the machine’s burnished steel surface with a towel and that sanitizing mixture. Finally, they were ready to let the machine blast its innards with heat and pressure to kill off any microorganisms that managed to survive that long.
Once upon a time, McDonald’s staff completed all these steps after the restaurant closed for the day. When’s the last time you visited a McDonald’s that wasn’t open 24 hours, though? When you’re always open, you have to get your maintenance tasks done while still serving food. Inevitably, some jobs will interrupt service.
It just so happens that the ice cream machine requires more time-consuming maintenance than, say, the fryer or the heat lamp.
Technically, when you ask the cashier at your local McDonald’s for a McFlurry, and they say, “The machine is down,” they aren’t being strictly truthful. The machine is just fine. It’s just busy getting scrubbed and sanitized and sizzled clean.
That’s not a minor concern. In July 2017, a teenage McDonald’s worker named Nick (last name withheld at his request) made headlines when the fast food chain allegedly fired him for posting pictures of a moldy machine at his LaPlace, Louisiana restaurant.
“I tried to clean the machine after I spilled it, so I pulled [the trays] out from the side,” Nick told BuzzFeed News. “I was completely shocked by what I saw.”
“I thought [the machine] would be cleaned regularly,” he added, noting that he believes that his McDonald’s is an outlier.
For what it’s worth, the LaPlace restaurant told BuzzFeed News that they regularly clean all of their equipment.
A spokesman also said that the disgusting photos (linked here, but warning, they’re pretty gross) showed part of a machine that doesn’t touch the actual ice cream.
“This is a part of our soft-serve equipment that does not come into contact with any food and is required to undergo regular and timely cleaning,” the representative stated.
Ice cream machines (and ice machines, for that matter) make excellent homes for bacteria and mold, as their high levels of moisture provide an ideal environment for certain microorganisms. Oddly enough, there usually aren’t laws against letting ice cream machines go unwashed for days at a time, although regulations require regular cleaning in accordance with the machines’ manufacturer specifications.
But many fast food restaurants—McDonald’s included—go above and beyond those specifications. After all, it only takes one viral Twitter story to ruin a brand’s reputation. McDonald’s restaurants regularly clean the parts of their machines that actually come in contact with ice cream, and, unfortunately, that takes a little bit of time.
As such, they typically run the cleaning operations towards the end of the day or after busy periods. Staff members don’t want to explain that the cleaning process takes a long time, so they simply tell customers that the machines are “down.”
Either way, the end result is that you’ll have to find dessert somewhere else. Let’s not blame McDonald’s staff for uttering a little white lie; their hearts are in the right place.
Still, some McDonald’s customers are fed up.
The Wall Street Journal piece tells the story of Matt Laliberte, an 18-year-old student who loves McFlurrys. After Laliberte was denied his sweet treat for what seemed like the millionth time, he hopped onto Twitter to express his dismay.
“I’m convinced there’s no way an ice cream machine would be down all the time with no replacement or repair of the machine,” Laliberte told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s getting to the point where I won’t bother going back.”
And if The Wall Street Journal is reporting on something like this, you know it’s a widespread problem. If enough of McDonald’s’ regular customers reach the same conclusion, we bet you anything the company rolls out a fix sooner rather than later. The profits must remain sweet, even if the only remaining food options are a bit salty.