My last tour as part of the McDonald’s All-Access Moms program was in two parts, each distinctly McDonald’s, but completely separate in terms of what I was preparing myself to see, learn, and come away with.
Part of the last tour included a visit to a local Ronald McDonald House – the House we visited was the Ronald McDonald House Southwestern Ontario, located in London, Ontario. I had not visited a Ronald McDonald House before that day, but like most of us, I was familiar with the charity, its purpose, and how at least some of the fundraising is done.
The purpose of a Ronald McDonald House, of which a significant portion of funding comes from the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Canada, is simple: to provide a little bit of normalcy when a family’s life has been turned upside down by a child’s illness.
I have been fortunate that my children have never been hospitalized and most certainly have never encountered the situation of having my child sent to a bigger centre for treatment so they’re not even near home. I’m not sure what we’d do in that situation, since we live far from extended family and are a family of five. How does a family cope when a little one is sick and has to be sent an hour away to a hospital? Who stays with the sick child? I don’t even know how we’d figure that out but after visiting a Ronald McDonald House and learning a bit more about it, I feel better knowing there’s a caring charity there to help.
The Ronald McDonald House Southwestern Ontario was recently renovated and now has 34 rooms for families to stay in, almost double the capacity they could previously accommodate. When we arrived, it was early December and the House was already decorated for the holidays. The House exuded a warm feeling right from the lobby. When your child is sick, having comfort is so important (especially when hospitals offer such a sterile, chilled, environment).
The layout of the House was not created by chance. On the main floor there are several seating areas, but each within its own small, comfortable, nook so families can sit together without having to sit with everyone else… unless of course they want to! In various areas throughout the House you will find a desk with computer, so families can check email and contact friends and family while still keeping an eye on the kids. The room shown above within the glass door is for young children, with a computer station right outside (the moms on the tour commented that we all need a set up like this in our own houses)!
The House, complete with a media room for movies, treasure chest room with special surprises, a room for older kids with a foosball table, gaming systems and more, has everything a family could possibly need when away from home and dealing with a little one’s sickness.
After touring the House I felt so positive about this charitable organization and how it helps families and will undoubtedly be referring people to a Ronald McDonald House should any of my friends or family have sick children in the hospital.
That prompted a question from all of us. How does a family become guests at Ronald McDonald House Southwestern Ontario? The answer? You simply call and ask. Bookings cannot be confirmed in advance (for example if your child has a set surgery date) because they simply cannot judge the need for rooms at a certain time. But all it takes is a phone call by yourself or by hospital staff for the medical referral to make arrangements for you and yours in a time of need.
Of course, once you visit and stay at the House, as wonderful as it is, you certainly don’t want to return anytime soon. The reality for many families, however, is that they return to the Ronald McDonald House in their area more often than they’d like.
We had the utmost privilege of meeting members of a family dealing with the heartbreaking battle of childhood leukemia. George and his youngest daughter Nadine sat down with us at the House and George shared his story about his eldest daughter who has been battling leukemia since the age of 5. Off and on for the past 5 years they have been staying at the London Ronald McDonald House when in the city for treatment (they live 2 hours away in Windsor).
Their story really made the gift of what the Ronald McDonald House does for families all the more real. While George appreciates everything they have done for his family, he does not want to return to the House again; but right now that possibility is there. I hope for the family’s sake that they never have to return to a Ronald McDonald House again, if only to stop by and say thank you to the staff with their healthy, cured, daughter.
The next time my local McDonald’s restaurant celebrates McHappy Day, which will be held on May 2 this year, I will make sure I participate and will be asking my friends to do so as well. This year on McHappy Day $1 from every Big Mac, Happy Meal and hot McCafé beverage sold goes to local children’s charities, like Ronald McDonald House Charities across Canada. Additionally, any time you purchase a Happy Meal in Canada, 10 cents from each meal goes to Ronald McDonald House Charities as well. And because McDonald’s pays all of the administration costs of Ronald McDonald House Charities, 100 cents from every dollar donated goes to support the Ronald McDonald Houses.
I intend to contact the local Ronald McDonald House in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to introduce myself and hopefully come for a tour. I also want to find out what they need and how I can help this charity locally. This recent tour has reminded me how fortunate my family is and prompted me to find ways to give to a charity that does so much for others. While good karma through giving may only take me so far, there’s just no way to know if one day we will be in need of a room at a Ronald McDonald House. I sure hope not – but if that situation came about, I’d know I could count on this charity to give me strength, comfort, and a roof over our head when we need it most.
Where do I start when writing this post? Unlike our previous McDonald’s All-Access Moms tour to the Cargill Beef Facility in Spruce Grove, Alberta, this time we were visiting the Cargill Chicken Facility in London. Here, we were going to see the entire chicken to McNugget process, beginning (which is the end for the chicken) to end (McNugget).
None of us were looking forward to the tour, though we were all curious about the mighty McNugget. We knew that to get the answers our readers want, this was the way to do it. This tour in particular was a bit more “all-access” than I’d like, but at the end of the day, it was an important part of this journey.
After we met with Cargill representatives (a couple of whom we had previously met in Spruce Grove) we listened to a presentation about the Cargill London Facility, about Cargill as a company, as well as the pride of the employees who work there. We were also told ahead of time what we were going to see throughout the entire process so that we would be prepared.
Upon entering the receiving area where production begins and the chickens are taken through the slaughter process, we were all a bit uneasy. Me, I outright gagged. Twice. Loudly. I was mortified but continued on (with a face mask to handle the smell) because I felt that it was something I had to see in order to give a full report back to my readers. Now the ironic thing here is that my reaction was not from what I was seeing. The smell of wet chicken feathers is something my mom has professed for years to be one of the worst smells ever. It was raining in London that day. She was right.
The chicken-slaughter itself was actually very quick. To put it in simple terms – the live chicken is brought in to the receiving area and hung on the production line by the ankles which keep the chickens calm (as much as one can be calm in that situation). The lights are kept low and the chicken’s front rubs against a breast plate which also has a calming effect. Next, the chicken receives an electrical stun to render the chicken insensible, which means the chicken is still alive but unconscious and insensible to any pain. An incision is then made in the side of the neck, the chicken bleeds out and then dies before it regains consciousness. The feathers, head and feet are removed next (a hot water tank is used to remove the feathers). The process wasn’t pretty, to say the least, but growing up on the prairies, I understand this is all part of the food chain. Temple Grandin, a leading animal welfare expert, has even approved the process herself, which speaks volumes.
Once the head, feet and feathers are removed the chicken moves on to the next stage of the primary processing, where the chicken, including internal organs, are inspected to make sure the chicken is wholesome and ready for processing into food. The chicken is then cooled in a chiller and it is after this point that the chicken is in the same state as you would buy them in the grocery store. Full disclosure here, I won’t buy/cook a whole chicken because of the way it looks – bones, wings…yup, wasn’t this tour just perfect for me??
After this point, the chickens are deboned and the drums, wings, thigh meat and breast meat are removed. The meat is passed through 2 x-ray machines up to 3 times to ensure there are no bones left in the product.
The white chicken breast meat is what’s used in the Chicken McNuggets, so after the deboning and removing the sections of meat from the chicken, the breast meat used to make Chicken McNuggets is put into a mixer (even though the term “blender” is used by documentary writers and chefs on TV, there are no blades to chop/blend the meat so it’s essentially mixed, not blended). The mixer also contains a marinade and a proportional amount of the skin from the breast meat, which we learned is a great binder to help the meat form (who knew?).
Once mixed, the meat goes through the production line and is formed by a machine into the 4 distinct shapes of Chicken McNuggets – the boot, the bell, the ball and the bow tie. Bet you didn’t know there were actual names for each of the shapes? I didn’t either.
Once formed, the McNuggets are first battered with flour and then covered with a Tempura batter before going into a fryer to make the coating crisp. The McNuggets are par-fried at this point but not fully cooked until they have been cooked at the restaurant. Once the frying is complete, the Nuggets are immediately frozen, inspected once more, and then placed 27 to a bag and then boxed 28 bags to a box.
Similar to the beef-to-patty process at Cargill Meats in Alberta when we saw Quarter Pounder patties being made, the process to make a Chicken McNugget is quite simple. There were no back rooms where mysterious ingredients are added and all our questions were answered when we needed clarification on something.
Thanks to my readers for the questions they provided – I got answers! Take a jump over to my blog here to read a Q&A segment about McDonald’s Chicken.
When I learned our third McDonald’s All-Access Moms trip would bring us to Cargill Meats in Alberta, where we would learn about how hamburgers are made, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it. As I shared in my initial post announcing the trip, I was hesitant to go, because I was scared of what I might see. I returned from the trip and shared with my friends and family that I was really impressed with what I learned and thankfully, I can still eat Big Macs!
What goes into our beef is a concern, and this was mirrored by the comments and questions I received from readers to bring forward to the people who could answer them. Some common questions were, “What’s really in the beef?”, “Is 100% Beef a trademark name?”, and “What are the cattle fed and how are they treated?” I set out to find answers to these questions, and many more while in Alberta.
Our first day brought us to the Cargill Meats Beef Facility in Spruce Grove, Alberta. This single facility supplies hamburgers to all the McDonald’s restaurants across Canada and 3 million patties are processed daily! That’s a pretty mighty feat for a facility of its size. Stakeholders (the term Cargill uses for their employees, which I love) take huge pride in their work, knowing the reach their group has here in Canada. As a side note, this is something I’ve noted through all our trips – the pride in the people who supply the food to McDonald’s here in Canada is huge.
It’s difficult to explain everything we learned in one blog post, so I’m going to break it down by the questions brought forward by my friends, family, and readers and what I learned to bring back to them, in my own words. Hopefully this discussion will answer some questions you’ve had too.
So what’s in the ground beef that Cargill supplies to McDonald’s?
Hamburger meat is composed of the same cuts used in your grocery store roast and steak. Essentially it’s roast cuts and steak trimming.
Wait, where’s the other stuff I heard about on the web?
Probably in the same place other urban legends live. I saw the entire process from the beef being brought into the facility, cut up, in huge containers to it being ground up then pressed into a Quarter Pounder hamburger patty. Nothing was added to the meat in the process (no pink sludge, no ammonia, and other things that are reported online).
No ammonia? But I saw that on a documentary, who’s lying?
No one is lying. The documentary you saw was likely produced in the US and covers US food practices. The use of ammonia in beef is not approved in Canada.
The burgers taste different than the ones I make at home, they also look different. Why is that?
There are no seasonings added to the hamburger meat, but you likely do add seasonings at home. Also, when I make my burgers at home, they never look the same (truthfully sometimes they look like hamburger snowballs)! The hamburgers produced at Cargill are made by machine, so yes they will all look exactly the same, and likely not at all like your home-made burgers. Salt and pepper are added at the restaurant when grilling.
How do I know the meat coming out of the Cargill facility is safe, even if you say it doesn’t have anything added?
Cargill performs more than 2,400 recorded quality and food safety checks every day. The production line has two metal detectors to find any trace of foreign materials. Cooked patties from the production line are evaluated for their consistency related to appearance, texture, and flavour and these tests are performed every 30 minutes, which means 40 times daily.
On the second day, we visited a farm that supplies beef to Cargill. This, of course, is the first step in the beef production process. I had never been to a large scale feed lot but again, read about some of them on the internet and wasn’t sure what to expect. Here’s what I learned about the beef production process as it begins “down on the farm”.
Cows calve in the winter months indoors. Calves stay with their mother for about 8-9months (this is when they are weaned too) until they enter the second step in the process at about 10-12 months. During their first nine months of life, the calves graze on pastures and grasslands.
Once they enter the feed lots, they stay for a total of 90-200 days and gain about 3-3.5 pounds per day. The cows eat a combination of grasses and barley in the feed lot.
I thought a feed lot would look more like a production-line place, where cows were there only to eat and not move about much at all. Me being, well…me…didn’t even realize we were IN the feed lot until we were leaving. I thought we were near the pastures because my perception of a feed lot was nothing like what I saw. The cows had tons of room to roam around, graze and run. Feed lots here in Canada range in size, holding anywhere from a few hundred head to over 40,000.
People have concerns about animal welfare and animal treatment which is understandable. Living in Saskatchewan my entire life, it always makes me shake my head when people question a farmer’s integrity when raising cattle or other animals for slaughter. What I have always known, and more people need to understand, is that a farmer’s livelihood is in his livestock. It is, quite literally, what puts food on his table for his family and a roof over their heads. To mistreat the very product that ensures his livihood makes no sense. A farmer takes pride in his livestock and his land – this I know after 34 years on the prairies.
Still, it’s important to have procedures and policies in place to make sure our animals are treated ethically and humanely, and all beef cattle that are supplied to Cargill are treated in compliance AMI’s guidelines for humane treatment of animals.
In fact, world renowned expert in animal welfare, Temple Grandin, was quoted as saying, “McDonald’s should be given credit for bringing about improvements in animal welfare in the entire beef industry…I have been in business for more than 25 years and have never seen such a transformation.” You see, the policies McDonald’s brought in have shaped policies for the entire industry as well.
Next, we looked at answering questions many moms have about hormones and antibiotics in our food.
Are hormones used in the beef that Cargill uses to make McDonald’s hamburgers?
Yes. Hormonal growth promoters are given to increase lean tissue growth which results in a healthier product (less fatty) which is produced at a lower cost to the consumer. Basically, the cow grows faster spending less time in the feed lot, consuming less food as a result, and keeping the production moving along, so to speak. It is not just McDonald’s that uses hormonal growth promoters, this is a practice of the Canadian Beef industry and the use is regularly monitored by the CFIA.
Some people think that our cattle should be raised without hormones being used (that is, additional hormones as of course, all meat would have naturally occurring hormones in it) and this is possible to do, though the cost to the consumer would increase as a result. The Health Canada website (www.hc-sc.gc.ca) has more information about hormonal growth promoters.
So ammonia isn’t used but you can’t tell me antibiotics and vaccines are not used in beef production. Antibiotics are bad, right?
No, unhealthy, sick, cattle would be very bad! Vaccines are given at birth and then again 3-6 months. Antibiotics are given when a cow is showing signs of sickness. A cow that has had antibiotics must go through a withdrawal period before it could be sent to slaughter, to ensure that there’s no residual left in the meat. CFIA (Canada Food Inspection Agency) does random checks to ensure that these rules are being followed.
When the McDonald’s All Access Moms had completed our trip, we then had our usual Q&A with the producer and film crew that are capturing our tours to air in segments on CityLine, through national commercials, and on the McDonald’s All Access Moms site. When asked what surprised me most on this tour, my reply was that I was surprised by how simple the entire process is.
No mystery meat or parts used to make McDonald’s hamburgers. No documentary-worthy ingredients added to the meat to wash it, and a clear explanation about the role of hormones, vaccines and antibiotics in the beef production process that make sense to me, with references readily given to government standards and protocol for further reading.
I worried that I would not be able to eat hamburgers after this trip, but quite honestly, I feel better about eating ground beef and McDonald’s hamburgers after going on this trip and learning about ground beef production.
Hopefully, I helped answer some nagging questions fellow moms have about McDonald’s hamburgers. Now you can dispel the myth out there about the “100% Pure Beef” being a trademark name and ask your friends if they know that McDonald’s hamburger meat is made from the same cuts of beef as Sunday’s roast beef dinner.
I know that these answers won’t please everyone. There are groups that are anti-McDonald’s and that’s fine. The purpose of this program, and my enthusiastic role as part of it, has nothing to do with trying to convince people who hate a company to go eat a French fry.
This program is not for them.
This program is for moms just like me who eat at McDonald’s with their children and want to know more about the food we’re eating. It’s about education and using that information to make the decision you see fit for your family.
For more details on this trip please visit my blog Feisty, Frugal and Fabulous!
When the second McDonald’s All-Access Mom trip was announced, disclosing that we – the 3 moms chosen here in Canada to partake in the program – would be traveling to New Brunswick to learn about potatoes, the reaction was likely similar for all of us. Potatoes? Seriously? How interesting could they be?
Still, this was part of my commitment to the program and I was interested to see what I could learn and take away from this trip. Of all the urban myths out there about this company, the mighty potato does not get away unscathed. There are photos on the internet showing the super-human ability of the McDonald’s French Fry to withstand disintegration. Just what are these French Fries made from, anyway? What’s in the potatoes that make these fries taste so unbelievably good? What about the growers, do they hold a sense of pride and do they enjoy working to supply McCain?
McCain is the worldwide supplier of French Fries to McDonald’s. 17 factories across the world make McDonald’s French Fries and astoundingly one in every three French fries in the world is a McCain french fry!
Our first day in Grand Falls brought us to the Desjardins farm – a local family that has been supplying potatoes to the Grand Falls McCain facility for over ten years. We met with the husband and wife farming team (we all know the wife runs the show, right?), learned about potato planting in the spring (5-10 days in May depending on weather) and about the potato harvest in the fall which we were visiting right in the middle of.
The Desjardins plant 335 acres of potatoes each year, of which 180 acres are dedicated to the specific McDonald’s varieties and work with the McCain agronomy team to ensure that the potatoes grow to the right size and are free from disease or insects pests. Yes, pesticides are used, when necessary, because without such use there would be little sellable crop of the proper size and quality left at the end of the growing season.
On that note, let’s look a little deeper into the pesticide question, since it’s one that many moms including myself wonder about. Potatoes have been said to be on the dirty dozen list of the most pesticide-riddled foods, understandably so, because of the nature of the pests. While I’m aware of the dirty-dozen list, it doesn’t stop me from eating these foods though it does make me take extra precautions when preparing.
We asked McCain about the use of pesticides and were told that pesticide residue testing is done by a third party laboratory on a regular basis. These tests check for all pesticides registered for use on potatoes in Canada and if the lot tested is above the MRL (Maximum Residue Limit) it is rejected. The entire crop. Obviously this would be detrimental to the farmer so they work diligently to ensure that pesticide application is kept below the MRL. Where possible, McCain sets an even lower MRL for some applications. For example, the McCain limit for CIPC is 10 ppm which is 5 ppm lower that the Canadian MRL of 15 ppm.
On our second day visiting Grand Falls, we went on a tour of the McCain French Fry facility – yes an entire facility dedicated to making French Fry products only (the lot also held buildings where other McCain foods are prepared, making this plant a huge employer in the region). Wearing our outfits fresh off the runway (ha!), we saw the entire process start to finish on how a local farmer’s potato crop turns into a McDonald’s French Fry, bagged, boxed, and ready for shipment across Canada (all McDonald’s French Fries sold in Canada are made from Canadian potatoes, by the way!)
During the tour I couldn’t help but think of one of my 7 year old’s favourite Discovery Channel shows, “How It’s Made” and how much he would love seeing something like this. The potato crop is first rinsed, a sampling of which are taken out for inspection. If more than a few potatoes do not pass inspection, the whole crop brought in could potentially be denied! The potatoes are then sent on their way through the production line which includes high pressure steam to remove the skins, blanching to deactivate enzymes that cause discoloration and remove excess sugars that result in uneven browning. Then, they’re treated with a solution of dextrose (to give the fries a golden colour after cooking), yes a sugar (if it was added for flavouring, they say they’d use sucrose, as dextrose is not as sweet) and sodium acid pyrophosphate (SAPP). They’re then par-fried in oil. Even the packaging, boxing and preparing shipments to stores was interesting to watch as everything is so precise (each bag of french fries is weighed and must be exact as well.)
I left for home after this trip taking away some positive thoughts about McDonald’s and their partnership with McCain. First, since all the french fries for McDonald’s restaurants in Canada are supplied by Canadian farmers, it made me feel really positive knowing what a huge impact that’s making on our farming industry.
Second, it was great to see the entire process from start to finish on how a potato in a field becomes a McDonald’s french fry, and see for myself that no magic ingredients were added to make this a super-french-fry. No GMO potatoes are processed at McCain (they haven’t since 2000)
So why does a McDonald’s French fry appear online in photos as having a super-human power, not appearing to mould or disintegrate as time goes by? The same holds true for the hamburger and the bun.
McDonald’s food is said to be MSG free, and I think that’s why there’s so much question and suspicion about the non-disintegrating Happy Meal. How can McDonald’s say the food is free from MSG (a flavour enhancer) yet it doesn’t appear to spoil?
The explanation the All-Access Moms have received is that it’s a moisture (water activity) issue. The buns are toasted, the meat is a thin patty that is grilled, reducing the moisture content there and the French fries are blanched, dried and par-fried at the McCain plant and then completely fried in the restaurant, reducing moisture each time. Also, the cheese is processed and won’t mould because it’s a processed food.
To a certain extent I can agree with that – it seems to make sense to me that bacteria needs moisture to grow and I’d agree that the burgers are pretty dry, a toasted bun is dry, and French fries are fried in oil sucking the moisture out of them too. I’m not shocked by any of that – I don’t kid myself into thinking a happy meal is equivalent to eating a salad in terms of nutrition or freshness.
I’d love to see some people do experiments with other food. Toast a regular hamburger bun so the cut surface is completely toasted, fry/grill or BBQ a pure beef patty (minimum internal temperature of 160F – no pink colour), and top with a processed cheese slice. Fry your frozen shoestring potatoes (they need to be the right size) at home and then leave the meal out to see what happens. My understanding is that, for the French fries at least, there may be some variation because the McDonald’s French fries are par-fried during production before cooked in a deep-fryer in the restaurant. So, there’s an extra step there, which reduces the moisture even more. As a sign that they are completely cooked, the internal texture of the French fry should be like a baked potato – not wet.
So, while the issue of a Happy Meal not appearing to mould/disintegrate is still bothersome for me, I did learn some positive things about McDonald’s and their French fry supplier, McCain. No GMO potatoes are used, pesticide levels are strictly monitored and in some instances, even lower than MRL government standards, and the entire process is there to ensure customers get the best tasting French fries in their meals.
For more thoughts on this trip and more photos, please check out my blog, Feisty Frugal & Fabulous!
It’s been a few weeks since the All-Access Moms returned from our first trip, and we’ve been busy getting our information organized, asking follow-up questions, and writing our blog posts to share with you! This tour, in its entirety, will involve several trips to help us get a better understanding of the McDonald’s company as a whole, and learn more about the brands, companies and people behind the famous golden arches. McDonald’s has promised us “all-access” and while that may raise an eyebrow with some; I’m up for the challenge to learn as much as I can and decide for myself ultimately, what it all means in the end.
The first portion of this trip took us to the McDonald’s Canada Head Office in Toronto, Ontario. There, I met fellow bloggers Jill from UrbanMommies, Maureen from Weewelcome.ca, our host Nanny Robina, and got an overall look at what the week ahead would involve. Portions of our tours, meetings with company execs, and more are being filmed for broadcast on CityLine TV (full details here) so we were also introduced to the world of TV production which isn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds. I learned quickly that I would not fare well as a TV personality. I’m much too impatient.
After meeting some company executives, shaking hands, and meeting people I won’t remember most of the names of, we visited a Toronto McDonald’s restaurant to speak to a manager and ask some questions about day-to-day operations. How is food stored? How long, exactly, do those Chicken McNuggets sit under the lights? What are the protocols followed in cleaning McDonald’s Playlands? The visit was a good way to see how a McDonald’s restaurant operates and the pride in the management and staff.
Next, the group was off to Chicago to visit the McDonald’s Global Head Office, Hamburger University (yes, really) and the Innovation Center – where training procedures, restaurant procedures and generally, everything McDonald’s, is streamlined to be more efficient.
Global Head Office is where we met with Chef Dan, the man behind creating many of McDonald’s new items. Here is where we discussed some McDonald’s urban legends, asked what healthy initiatives McDonald’s is looking at for the future and learned how McDonald’s decides what goes on their menu.
We’ve all heard that fast food is riddled with preservatives and tons of MSG – it stands to reason that it would be since it needs to be kept fresh for customers – but at what risk to our health? I asked the McDonald’s team about MSG in their food and they provided the following response.
MSG was a widely used flavour enhancer several years ago. However, the growing scientific evidence of consumer sensitivity resulted in McDonald’s removing all added MSG in its menu items several years ago. Today, MSG is on a list of ingredients that should not be used when formulating products for McDonald’s.
It should be noted, however, that other ingredients high in glutamic acid (such as hydrolyzed plant/vegetable protein, yeast extract, soy extract, etc.) may cause similar reactions to those sensitive to MSG. All these types of ingredients are shown in the Food Facts ingredient information found on the McDonalds.ca website (I do love that all food ingredients are listed here, it’s a great resource)!
I had many more food ingredient questions and covered more questions and answers on my personal blog post here – so much to say, so little space! We will also have more opportunities to ask more specific questions when we visit the facilities where the beef, chicken and potato products come from on future tours.
The Innovation Center was really interesting. In an unassuming warehouse a McDonald’s restaurant counter, kitchen, and drive-thru are all set up exactly like they would be in any restaurant across the U.S.A. The McDonald’s employees that visit the Innovation Center, represent 25 countries and testing ideas for more than 30,000 restaurants around the world.
Basically, they run-through ordering scenarios in an attempt to streamline the entire process. Counter areas are made bigger because of scenarios involving travelers with suitcases, mothers with strollers, etc. Drive-thru times are cut down because of changes made in the kitchen as a result of testing the time from one window to the next, and more.
As the bloggers watched the process, one question came to our minds – the employees were using real McDonald’s food (after all, the food needs to be cooked, packaged, and arranged on a tray while being timed) but where was the food going? The answer was, behind an area closed off with a blue curtain. Employees would walk in with their food, and out, hands empty.
When I asked Kathy Fox: Director of Menu Management and Innovation at McDonald’s U.S. about this, she explained that many food items were given to food pantries. The staff (engineers, experts in operations, design and technology as well as 70 crew members and managers, such that on any given day, there are more than 100 people onsite at the center) ate a lot of the food, and whatever food that does not fall into those categories is part of the process for a more streamlined restaurant (in other words, the greater good).
Not satisfied with that response (no one could really say how much food was thrown away), we asked to see behind the blue curtain. Phone calls were made, higher-ups in the organization were asked, and in the end we were refused. The irony here is that it became a much bigger deal than it had been had we been able to see, learn what food is sent to the food pantries, and see how much food is thrown away every day in this facility. I get that in order to make things run smoother you need real-life scenarios, with food, and sometimes that food is thrown away. I understand that this happens every day. What I don’t understand is why we were not able to see such a simple thing and it left me unsettled.
Overall, the first McDonald’s All Access Moms tour was a positive one. Yes, there were a few things that could have been done differently but the team we’re traveling with has taken our feedback. Ultimately, the biggest drama for me occurred because of ‘the big blue curtain’.
I’m hopeful that in future tours (chicken facility, beef facility, french fry facility and more) those with the power to open doors leave them open for us.