Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Much Salt Is Enough for McDonalds Fries?

McDonald's is the most popular fast food restaurant chain in the world, with branches in every country. The logo of this corporation and its signature food, the Big Mac, are seen in almost every corner of the world and in communities big and small.

However, I have to wonder if McDonald's has a secret agenda to reduce our collective life expectancy.

I've been having issues with my neighborhood McDonald's, located in Discovery Bay, for some weeks now. The most recent is the fact that they seemed to be putting an obscene amount of salt on the french fries. It was as if I was eating salt right out of the shaker when I ate just a few of them and I often found myself unable to finish even a small sized order.

At first, I thought that they might be using a regular shaker where some one would sprinkle what they thought was an adequate amount of salt on the latest batch of fries to come out of the fryer, but I noticed that they are using a special device that measures-out the salt to be added to each new batch, so that idea was definitively proven wrong.

But then I remembered my own years of working in fast food - in my case, Burger King - where I noticed a few times that there seemed to be too much salt on the fries going out. I realized then that, while some of the salt was on the fries, the rest was still in the bin, along the sides and bottom. As new fries were put in from the fryer, they made contact with the salt that was already in the bin, as well as the salt that would be added. So, by late afternoon, there was a large amount of salt in the bin with more being added with each batch of fries coming from the fryer. The bin is constructed so that excess oil falls through the grating at the bottom, but the salt will stick to the sides and bottom, since it is also coated with oil from having new fries put in every few minutes.

One solution that was put to us was to wipe down the inside of the bin to remove the excess salt, but that wasn't really effective, as the cloth would only catch a little bit of it and salt behaves a lot like sand: it gets into everything and goes everywhere.

My idea was to simply not add salt to a few batches of fries and simply sift them around to catch the salt that coated the inside of the bin. Eventually, the old salt would make contact with the new fries and the amount of salt in the bin would go down to a manageable level where adding salt to new fries wouldn't affect the taste of the fries or the amount of leftover salt in the bin. The logic of the idea seemed obvious to me, so I did that way for awhile. That is, until management found-out about it.

Management pointed-out to me that the process spelled-out during training was:
  1. take new fries from fryer;
  2. put fries in bin;
  3. add salt
  4. repeat.
No variation of this formula was included in training or company policy, so employees weren't given the option to modify it to their own liking, regardless of motives. If there was too much excess salt in the bin, employees were instructed to take a cloth and wipe-down the inside, regardless of the effectiveness of this practise.
And people wonder why the salt content of fast food is so high.
Anyway, since i eat at the nearby McDonald's fairly regularly (often too tired to cook or in a rush), I decided to finally speak to the manager, who I've seen very often and I figured that she seemed to be an amiable person to whom I could make my concerns known. At first, I asked if there was a suggestion box. When that venue didn't avail itself, I spoke to her for a few minutes and she seemed to understand what I was talking about. She even cautioned an employee about adding too much salt to the fries afterwards.
We'll see if the situation is corrected.
McDonald's isn't really helping its customers keep their health. The double portions of beef or chicken patties being offered, as well as the Super Size meals with extra french fries and a larger drink may make customers feel fuller and put more money in McDonald's' bank account, it does mean that you're getting more healthy food in your diet. You're simply getting more of the same crap you've been eating for years.
While McDonald's does offer salads, they are priced much higher than french fries by far, due to the inexpensiveness of the potatoes the fries are made from versus the cost of the salad ingredients. Even so, they know more people will order fries than salads, so there is no real motivation to lower the cost of the salads. They could do this by increasing the cost of the french fries ever so slightly. If salads cost as much as french fries, more people might choose salads. Honestly, most people would still order fries with their meals anyway and the low cost of the stock makes the french fries pay for themselves with generous profits for the company. Salads' ingredients are more expensive and the product is more labor-intensive, as some one actually has to prepare them before serving, so cost versus benefit rules against salads in that regard.
Truthfully speaking, McDonald's would probably prefer not to offer salads in the first place. It's only because of pressure from consumer groups that they do it at all.
You, the reader, must be wondering what kind of fantasy land I must be living in to expect McDonald's, Burger King or any other fast food chain to even care about the health of their customers.
Well, I can dream, can't I?

Duane Browning
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