Broken ice cream machines at McDonald’s have been the butt of jokes and points of criticism from customers and competitors. Now, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is looking into the issue.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that the FTC this summer sought information from McDonald’s relating to the constantly broken ice cream machines from location to location. Those machines account for nearly 60% of U.S. dessert sales at McDonald’s.
“Owners of McDonald’s outlets have long complained the devices are overly complicated and their breakdowns hard to fix. The machines require a nightly automated heat-cleaning cycle that can last up to four hours to destroy bacteria. The cleaning cycle can fail, making the machines unusable until a repair technician can get them going again, owners say,” the Journal reported.
The Journal noted, however, that the FTC is merely inquiring about the machines, and that “the existence of a preliminary investigation does not indicate the FTC or its staff have found any wrongdoing,” according to a letter from the agency obtained by the outlet.
The FTC inquiry is one of many started by the Biden administration that aims to look at whether people are able to fix products they purchase or if they are impeded by manufacturers.
“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, according to a person familiar with FTC conversations with franchisees,” the Journal reported.
The question comes after McDonald’s franchise owners have struggled to keep their machines working. Some owners have had their staff trained to fix the machines themselves.
The machines are made by Taylor Commercial Foodservice LLC and must be repaired by them or an authorized repair company. In 2019, Kytch Inc. created a device that would alert McDonald’s employees if the machine was broken. The device could be mounted on the ice cream machine and displayed warnings in plain English. The Taylor machines, by contrast, displayed confusing error codes that needed to be looked up in the manual.
The Kytch devices were used in McDonald’s locations in 30 states, but the company eventually warned owners that the devices were unauthorized and even created a safety hazard, though Kytch denies that.
Kytch went on to sue Taylor, a repair company, and one McDonald’s franchise of trying to develop its own device based on Kytch’s technology.
“This is a case about corporate espionage and the extreme steps one manufacturer has taken to conceal and protect a multimillion-dollar repair racket,” Kytch’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.
Taylor denied the allegations and claimed in a court filing: “This is a case of a hacker—Kytch—incredibly accusing the hacked—Taylor—of theft.”
Now the FTC is looking into whether Taylor makes it difficult for McDonald’s owners to fix their own machines. McDonald’s is not the only company whose machines are being evaluated. The Biden administration is also looking into other devices, including cell phones, tractors, and others, to see if manufacturers impeded an owner’s ability to fix the machine themselves.
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