Why Are McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines Always Out-of-Order?

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If you have ever worked behind the counter in a fast food restaurant, as many (including me) have, the answer to this age old question may not be surprising. We know all of the dirty little secrets. And the scoop on the ice cream machine is that this: these jokers have to be cleaned frequently. Daily. And the cleaning isn’t easy.

A simple out of order sign might be an indication that none of the employees has had the time to tear down the machine. The cleaning and sterilization process can take up to four hours, and is typically the responsibility of the morning shift.

If the machine is cleaned at off-peak ice cream times, the profit margin increases. But if employees post images like this, they get fired.

Yet the cumbersome task often isn’t completed in time. It is better to tell customers that the machine is out of order than admit that serving ice cream from a machine that hasn’t been cleaned could make them sick.

This has been the case with the McFlurry craze this past summer at McDonald’s. Unfortunately for Ronald, his marketing team created stupendous demand for the frozen McFlurry.

Ice cream and shakes weren’t far behind. But many of the stores couldn’t keep pace.

The Wall Street Journal even jumped into the investigation. Their investigative reporting found the same conclusion. If it isn’t clean, the machine is taken off line. Once it is cleaned, it then has to cool down the ingredients. The whole process takes hours.

The Journal figures this is a problem, in that it eats into the projected $225 million profit margin that comes from deserts. The reality is that very few customers will walk away from an order if the the ice cream machine is down. The hamburger and fries will carry the day.

And, a tip from an insider: the Coke machines have to be cleaned just as frequently. If you ever order a fountain drink from a fast food joint and it doesn’t taste quite right, odds are it hasn’t been properly cleaned.

Before you judge McDonald’s harshly, I would offer this. The company (most of the time) shuts down the machines instead of serving from dirty machines. This is worth noting, and isn’t always a common practice at the store’s competition.