FTC looking into broken ice cream machines at McDonald's

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is reportedly looking into long-reported issues with McDonald’s ice cream machines that for years have become the butt of jokes from competitors and prompted widespread complaints from customers and franchisees alike. 

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the FTC over the summer sent a letter to McDonald’s franchise owners seeking details on reported issues with the machines that are meant to whip up milkshakes, soft cones and the popular McFlurry, a cup of soft ice cream mixed with candy and cookies. 

McDonald’s store owners have said that the machines are difficult to repair and require a nightly automated heat-cleaning cycle that can fail, requiring technicians to make the machines work again. 

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According to the Journal, the FTC wants to learn about the suppliers of the machines and whether restaurant employees are allowed to work on the machines.

A customer survey by research firm Technomic Inc. revealed that the ice cream machines account for about 60 percent of the chain’s dessert sales in the U.S., according to the Journal. 

The repeated breakdowns have prompted online petitions from customers demanding change, and an online tracker called McBroken monitors and lets users know about reports of machine outages across cities. 

McDonald’s itself has attempted to poke fun at the issue, tweeting in August 2020, “We have a joke about our soft serve machine but we're worried it won't work.” 

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The FTC declined to comment when contacted by The Hill, as it does not confirm or deny the existence of ongoing investigations. 

McDonald's USA said in a statement to The Hill that it had “no reason to believe we are the focus of an FTC investigation.”

“Nothing is more important to us than delivering on our high standards for food quality and safety, which is why we work with fully vetted partners that can reliably provide safe solutions at scale,” McDonald’s said. 

McDonald’s told The Hill that it recognizes the frustration from customers who have not been able to purchase desserts due to broken ice cream machines, adding that the company has established a team to address the issue. 

The company also said that it plans to implement new training to help staff better address issues of broken machines, as well as consistent maintenance checks at franchises.