By now, most people have become accustomed to the fact that the McFlurry machines at McDonald's are frequently out of order. There's even a "McBroken" map that can tell you whether your local McDonald's ice cream machine is working. But some McDonald's franchisees are tired of being the subject of social media roasts and they've taken the McFlurry problem into their own hands.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal published Wednesday, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached out to McDonald's franchisees this summer to see what exactly is up with the soft serve machines. Owners of McDonald's have said that the McFlurry devices, which blend soft serve with add-ins such as M&M's to make a tasty frozen treat, are overly complicated and hard to fix when they break down.
"The machines require a nightly automated heat cleaning cycle that can last up to four hours to destroy bacteria," according to the WSJ. Owners say the cleaning cycle can fail, making the machines unusable until a repair technician can get them going again.
“Intrinsic to the interest in our soft serve machines is our fans’ love of McDonald’s iconic McFlurry desserts and shakes," said McDonald's USA in a statement emailed to TODAY Food. "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 has no reason to believe we are the focus of an FTC investigation.”
The FTC did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TODAY.
According to the WSJ, some McDonald's franchisees have taken matters into their own hands, paying to train their employees to fix the faulty machines. The FTC reportedly got involved when it appeared there were road blocks to fixing the devices. The Biden administration has initiated several investigations on multiple products, from phones to tractors, to ensure that manufacturers aren't preventing owners from fixing the problem themselves.
"The FTC wants to know how McDonald’s reviews suppliers and equipment, including the ice cream machines, and how often restaurant owners are allowed to work on their own machines," a person familiar with FTC conversations with franchisees told the WSJ. "The FTC inquiry is preliminary, and 'the existence of a preliminary investigation does not indicate the FTC or its staff have found any wrongdoing.'"
McDonald's confirmed to TODAY that they know it’s frustrating for customers when they visit McDonald’s and the soft serve machines are down, but that they've built a dedicated team to help serve their favorite desserts more consistently.
The fast-food giant also said they've introduced a variety of new solutions, including new training resources for crew members and regular maintenance "check-ups" to help keep machines running smoothly.
McDonald's has even tweeted about the longstanding soft serve machine problem.
"we have a joke about our soft serve machine but we're worried it won't work," McDonald’s tweeted in August 2020.
But the National Owners Association, a group of McDonald's franchisees, isn't seeing the humor in the situation. “We are tired of being the butt of late night jokes. So are our customers and crews,” the group wrote to owners back in May, according to the WSJ.
In the end, McDonald's owners and devoted McFlurry fans just want those machines working.
“I’m beginning to wonder if this McDonald’s even has an ice cream machine,” an Atlanta customer tweeted about their local McDonald's. “It’s been ‘broken’ so long that I’m coming up with conspiracy theories.”
Jim Lewis, who was a McDonald’s restaurant owner in New York for 32 years until he retired in 2019, told the WSJ, “The ice cream machine 'was so over-engineered it was silly. Sometimes simple is just better.'"