I’m finally rested enough (and got some sun at the beach) to focus and share some quick thoughts on my first trip with the McDonald’s All-Access Moms program. When discussing the outline and details of the program, I discovered it wouldn’t involve just one trip; instead the McDonald’s Moms (Maureen from Wee Welcome and Jill from Urban Mommies and myself) will be visiting several different locations over the next few months to get a better understanding of McDonald’s and their suppliers. Ah, yes, that’s right – McDonald’s is more than a company that sells burgers, fries and Happy Meals – what about the brands, companies, and people behind the famous golden arches? Where does the chicken in Chicken McNuggets come from? What brand does McDonald’s partner up with to bring us their french fries and how are they processed? The program promises “all-access” and while that may raise an eyebrow with some, I’m willing to check it out and learn what I can.
The first portion of this trip took us to the McDonald’s Canadian Head Office in Toronto, Ontario. There, we met the host for this program, 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 also got introduced to the world of tv production which isn’t nearly as glamourous 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 food is stored, how long exactly those McNuggets sit under the lights (the answer: 20 minutes) and what protocols are followed in cleaning McDonald’s Playlands (I learned they are thoroughly cleaned with a non-toxic cleaner (still waiting for more details on the cleaner as a reader has requested) every night and obviously cleaned during the day when unspeakable things happen inside them as well. 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 Innovation Place – 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. McDonald’s posts their food ingredients openly on their website, but it hasn’t stopped people from questioning certain rumors they may have heard.
So, I asked Chef Dan about the rumors and learned a few things. Here is a summary based on our conversation as well as information received when I had additional questions after the tour.
Is the “100% pure beef” wording for McDonald’s beef just the brand name, a way for the company to lie about what’s really in the beef?
No. McDonald’s hamburger patties in Canada are made with 100% Canadian federally inspected beef. They are cooked and prepared with salt, pepper and nothing else – no preservatives, no fillers
Are Chicken McNuggets made with all sorts of chicken pieces?
Chicken McNuggets are made with white chicken breast meat.
What about MSG?
MSG was a widely used flavor 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.
And the You Tube videos of food that doesn’t seem to spoil?
Bacteria and mold only grow under certain conditions. For example, without sufficient moisture – either in the food itself or the environment in which it is held – bacteria and mold and associated decomposition, is unlikely. If food is/or becomes dry enough, it won’t grow mold or bacteria. In fact, any food purchased from a restaurant or grocery store or prepared at home that lacks moisture would also dehydrate and see similar results if left in the same environment.
McDonald’s asked Frank Schreurs, President and CEO of the Guelph Food Technology Centre, an independent well-renowned scientific resource centre, to offer his perspective on these claims. He stated, “It would appear that due to the low moisture, constant temperature and relatively clean environment in which the product was placed for the extend period, that these would be the primary reasons as to why the product did not change or produce any molds, fungus etc.”
Others have weighed in on this story as well. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of The Food Lab at Serious Eats completed a rigorous experiment and determined that “it means that there’s nothing that strange about a McDonald’s burger not rotting. Any burger of the same shape will act the same way.” She concluded that “the burger doesn’t rot because it’s small size and relatively large surface area help it to lose moisture very fast.” Here’s the link to the story: The Burger Lab: Revisiting the Myth of The 12-Year Old McDonald’s Burger That Just Won’t Rot (Testing Results!) | A Hamburger Today.
We all had many more questions about McDonald’s food (obviously) but know that this is what future trips are for too – we’re going to the facilities where the chicken, beef, and potatoes come from to ask direct questions of those specifically producing these products.
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 US. The employees there (approximately 100 on any given day) basically 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 through 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, McDonald’s USA, LLC about this, she explained that many food items were given to food pantries, the staff there numbered 100 and 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 really could 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 this 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.
When people have asked me why I choose to apply for this program, I explained that it was purely for my own interest. I’ve heard the rumors, I’ve wondered about You Tube videos and stories posted on the internet.
Unfortunately those who critique my choice to participate also decided on their own my reasons for joining. I did not join the program to tell people why they should feed McDonald’s food to their family, nor did I join to help McDonald’s convince you that their food is healthy . I’m not getting bonus Chicken McNuggets for every person I convince to eat one, nor is it my concern if you ever eat McDonald’s again or eat there twice a week.
I’m participating to learn what I can about this company, take the information home and determine if it sounds correct, legitimate or otherwise, and make a decision based on the info on whether we will continue to purchase McDonald’s food as a family. I will of course share the information with my readers but what you choose to do with the info is ultimately up to you.