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    Why so many ice cream machines at McDonald's are broken : Planet Money : The Indicator from Planet Money : NPR

    McDonald's is notorious for frequent malfunctions of its ice cream machine. What's behind those malfunctions and why is the government getting involved?

    The Indicator from Planet Money

    Why are McDonald's ice cream machines always broken?

    January 11, 20227:00 PM ET


    Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

    The McFlurry is one of the best-selling dessert items on the McDonald's menu. And yet as almost any McFlurry fan will attest, the soft serve machines used to make them are constantly breaking down. It happens so often that McDonald's itself once tweeted "we have a joke about our soft serve machine but we're worried it won't work."

    Today on The Indicator, we're getting to the bottom of what's really behind the broken McDonald's ice cream machine conundrum. And we find out why McFlurries are so important to the economy that the Federal Trade Commission is getting involved.


    The REAL Reason McDonalds Ice Cream Machines Are Always Broken

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    The Real Reason McDonald's Ice Cream Machines Always Seem To Be Broken

    McDonald's broken ice cream machines have disappointed customers, sparked lawsuits, and even inspired an FTC probe. Here's why it's so hard to get a McFlurry.

    The Real Reason McDonald's Ice Cream Machines Always Seem To Be Broken

    Karolis Kavolelis/Shutterstock


    Ever roll up to the McDonald's drive-thru with an ice cream craving only to find out that the ice cream machine is busted? You're not alone. It's basically a fast food rite of passage. In 2016, broken ice cream machines were the most common service-related complaint to McDonald's on Twitter (via The Wall Street Journal).

    Over the years, the fast food restaurant's habitually broken ice cream machines have become a full-fledged meme, but not just any meme: It's a meme so viral that it's withstood literal years, outliving the Trump presidency and finding its way onto TikTok, according to Know Your Meme. In 2020, McDonald's even started roasting itself on Twitter.

    For the casual diner, the machines are the sort of minor inconvenience worth a couple Twitter complaints or a short-lived flurry of Change.org petitions — but it's spiraled into something so much more, including lawsuits and, per The Wall Street Journal, a possible FTC investigation. So, what's the deal? If anything is clear, McDonald's fans are not loving it.

    McDonald's soft serve is a big business


    Though McDonald's quietly changed its soft serve recipe in 2016, the history of McDonald's ice cream spans the better part of a century. Ice cream has been on the menu since at least the late 1940s, but the brand didn't introduce its classic McSundae until 1978. Decades later, the McFlurry made its debut. According to AdWeek, the treat was invented in Canada in 1995, but it's since become an international icon found in 99 different countries.

    McDonald's uses soft serve in more than 60% of their desserts, according to CNBC. In some places, you can still get a vanilla cone for $1 — one of the few things a dollar can actually buy in 2022. When Shamrock Shake season rolls around, the company sees a major boom in ice cream sales. Per Wired, the minty St. Patrick's Day-themed milkshake can "boost shake sales as much as tenfold." In other words: a broken ice cream machine can lead to hundreds of dollars of lost revenue.

    Overall, The Wall Street Journal estimates that ice cream accounts for 3% of McDonald's sales in the United States. That doesn't seem like a ton, but it actually equates to around $7,650,000 a year. So why is McDonald's seemingly so lax about broken machines?

    McDonald's ice cream machines differ from other ice cream machines


    To understand why McDonald's ice cream machines are consistently broken, you need to understand how ice cream machines actually work. The key components are a hopper, a barrel, and a scraper blade. According to Wired, liquid ice cream ingredients go through the hopper into the barrel, where they freeze. As the barrel spins, a scraper blade pulls thin sheets of the frozen ingredients off the sides of the barrel and mixes them repeatedly to reduce ice crystals. It then pushes the ice cream through a nozzle, where it lands in your cone.

    A McDonald's ice cream machine is a little different. It's more advanced than the kind you'd use at home (unless, of course, you're Jeff Bezos). Most franchises use digital Taylor ice cream machines that have two hoppers and two barrels along with a pump to speed up the dispensing process.

    This is how the machines can make both soft serve and milkshakes at the same time. It also helps McDonald's sell up to 10 ice cream cones every minute according to McD Truth, an anonymous franchisee who spoke to Wired. In his words, the machines are the veritable "Italian sports car" of the McDonald's kitchen — but sports cars aren't necessarily easy to fix when they break down.

    The machines are notoriously difficult to clean

    IMG Stock Studio/Shutterstock

    The problem with McDonald's ice cream machines becomes clear during the cleaning process. It actually needs to be cleaned less than the average ice cream machine. Most commercial ice cream machines need to be disassembled and sanitized every single day. McDonald's ice cream machine needs extensive cleaning just once every two weeks — but this is a difficult process.

    A Taylor representative told The Wall Street Journal that "the machines are built up with a lot of interconnecting parts that have to operate in a complex environment and manner." Overall, it's an 11-step process that requires removing seven different parts, including — as Wired reports — no less than over 20 variously-sized O-rings that are all crucial to the machine's function. Forget a ring? It'll disrupt the whole system, and you might spring a leak or jam up a pump.

    Source : www.mashed.com

    Why are McDonald's ice cream machines always broken? The FTC wants to know

    This summer, the Federal Trade Commission reached out to McDonald’s franchisees to find out what's up with all the broken ice cream machines.


    Why are McDonald’s ice cream machines always broken? The FTC wants to know

    Why are McDonald’s ice cream machines always broken? The FTC wants to know "Everything about the machine is just miserable."

    An employee hands a beverage to a customer at the drive-thru window of a McDonald's restaurant in Peru, Illinois. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

    By Julia Taliesin September 2, 2021 Facebook Twitter Email Email 19

    Ever craved a McFlurry at 1 a.m. and headed to your nearest McDonald’s, only to be told the machine is broken?

    If the answer’s yes, you’re not alone but, on the plus side, the feds are on it.

    The Federal Trade Commission reached out to McDonald’s franchisees to find out what is up with all the broken ice cream machines, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. The move comes amidst the Biden administration’s right to repair fight — an effort to take a closer look at whether manufacturers have been preventing owners from fixing broken machines themselves.


    This is not a new issue: people have been complaining for years about how frequently the ice cream machines are down at their local McDonald’s. In 2016, a Facebook user called Caito Potatoe posted about her heartbreaking experience driving 20 minutes to McDonald’s for an ice cream, only to be turned away, and the video went viral.

    There are a couple reasons behind this phenomenon, though only one has the FTC interested.

    According to WSJ, the ice cream machines are highly specialized and only manufactured by Taylor Commercial Foodservice LLC. Jim Lewis, a McDonald’s restaurant owner, told WSJ, “The ice cream machine was so over-engineered it was silly. Sometimes simple is just better.”


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    They also require a nightly automated heat-cleaning that lasts up to four hours which, if it fails, renders them unusable until they can be repaired.

    “When working with dairy products, you have to make sure the machine is cleaned properly,” a Taylor representative told WSJ. “The machines are built up with a lot of interconnecting parts that have to operate in a complex environment and manner.”

    The machines, therefore, require special training to fix them, which is entirely in the hands of Taylor manufacturing. Some franchise owners pay to train staff how to fix machines and others contact Taylor or an authorized repair company, the WSJ reported.


    That’s what got the FTC’s attention.

    The FTC is looking into how McDonald’s reviews suppliers and equipment, and how frequently restaurant owners are allowed to do work on their own machines, WSJ reported.

    In a letter, the FTC wrote that “the existence of a preliminary investigation does not indicate the FTC or its staff have found any wrongdoing,” and McDonald’s told the WSJ it has no reason to believe it was the focus of an investigation.

    Besides waiting on a fix, ice cream lovers might be disappointed with a late-night run because employees have already begun the long process of setting up the machine for its four-hour clean.

    In 2017, a McDonald’s spokesperson told WSJ they “regularly service our soft-serve equipment during off-peak hours” and “Customers who come in during that time may encounter a longer wait time or soft-serve dessert unavailability.”

    Courtney Bunting, who worked at an Illinois McDonald’s when she was 23, told the WSJ that employees often wouldn’t want to clean up the mess the machine made.

    “Everything about the machine is just miserable,” she said. “If someone came in 30 minutes before closing and ordered a McFlurry, would you want to risk something else splattering all over the area you just wiped? No.”

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