The Worst Fast Food, According to Chain Employees
Fast food workers offers some warnings about what to avoid on your next trip out for a quick meal.
By Ian Landau
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TUESDAY, July 10, 2012 —Fast-food employees sounded off in two recent discussions online recently, offering a behind-the-scenes, employee-eye view of the healthiness (or not) of fast food — and some of the insights into food quality and preparation practices.
First, an Ohio McDonald's employee and Reddit Web-site user named GameMisconduct63 submitted an "ask me anything" post on June 26, in which he responded to any question about working for the fast-food chain. Nine days later on July 5, Reddit user 4ScienceandReason posted a thread asking: "Fast food workers of Reddit, what is the one menu option at your employment that you would recommend people never eat? (Because of cooking safety, cleanliness, unhealthy, etc)."
The post received more than 6,000 comments in 24 hours.
As 4ScienceandReason wrote in a summary of the discussion thread he'd started, "some relatively universal concerns from different sources" emerged:
The Worst Offenders
Reddit member Dfunkatron says that as a McDonald's employee before 2003 — the year the chain switched to all white meat minced chicken nuggets — he left a bag of frozen nuggets on a counter for "way too long." The result: "They melted. Into a pool of liquid." Another poster named Kalevatar replied that because the chain's current frozen nuggets are coated with a glaze of ice, "they do get kinda melty still if you leave them out, but that's only because the melting ice dissolves the breading and the ground chicken isn't fully-cooked before it goes in the fryer." A further visualization of this process is offered by a user named bamp, who says, "Think of IKEA furniture being left in water... then turning to wood pulp."
Attempts to contact McDonald's for comment regarding its McNuggets were unsuccessful.
Surprisingly, it is grilled chicken and not nuggets that receives the worst beating from employees. In his "ask me anything," GameMisconduct63 says McDonald's grilled chicken "doesn't sell too well," and "can remain there for a decent amount of time.... Where I work, they can push it to two hours waiting." Another user says of the grilled chicken that although it's the most healthy thing on the menu, it "can end up lasting an hour in a heated cabinet."
Unconventional pizza toppings
One poster named K_Lobstah said that in his pizza-making experience," 'quirky' pizza toppings" that aren't ordered often (he mentions green olives, artichokes,and sun-dried tomatoes) don't get much turnover, and so aren't as fresh. And while he does say these toppings will be "replaced before they're actually rotten," he also notes that that could be "a long time after they're considered unfit for consumption."
Iced tea may sound healthier than a soft drink, however, most fast-food sweetened teas contain a whopping amount of sugar that's nearly equivalent to sodas of comparable size.
Many users told tales of moldy, unsanitary ice-making machines, while others said they'd never seen this problem. Perhaps the grossest description was from someone named rustyshackelford3000, who wrote: "These machines are only cleaned out usually when they break. The bottom of the ice bins are usually covered in very nasty stuff and slime."
Visiting just before closing time
This nugget from a self-described Wendy's employee sums up the problem: "Don't come through before we close. That's when we're most lenient about our quality. If you come through at 11:55, don't expect good stuff. Expect squishy chicken, old fries, and bad meat. It's not a guarantee, but chances are good.
One former Wendy's employee, Cozmo23 revealed the secret to the chain's beefy chili: "The meat comes from hamburger patties that sat on the grill too long to serve to customers. They take them and put them in a bin and then throw them in the fridge. When the chili is made they...boil it, chop it up, and dump [it] in the chili."
But Wendy's senior vice president of communications Denny Lynch tells Everyday Health this is no secret at all. He confirms that Cozmo23's description is pretty much spot on. "We have never hidden from the fact that since we started in 1969 we use hamburgers that are overcooked as chili meat," Lynch says. What's more, Lynch agrees with several Reddit users who responded to Cozmo23 by saying the Wendy's process makes perfect sense. "As several people pointed out, that's a way you don't waste meat," Lynch says. But he's also quick to add that "There are food safety issues and food safety procedures that we do have to follow," including rules for refrigeration and reheating the meat.
Double quarter pounder with cheese
Asked for his opinion of the worst food, healthwise, on the McDonald's menu, GameMisconduct63 says it's the double quarter-pounder with cheese, which has "the highest element content of most things on the menu. Element content meaning sodiums, carbohydrates, fats, etc."
A Silver Lining?
In the interest of overall health and well-being, it's safe to say everyone should limit fast-food intake. But amid all of the food-safety practices detailed in the Reddit discussions, several comments make it clear fast-food safety varies widely thanks to management at individual locations.
For example, when asked if McDonald's is clean, GameMisconduct63 replied, "Ours is, every 10 minutes it's required that someone cleans the tables in the lobby, as well as the floors (if needed)." A former Subway "sandwich artist" says he and his colleagues "kept the place spotless," and recommends customers use overall cleanliness as "an indication of clean, fresh ingredients."
Further hammering home the key role management plays in food handling and overall service, GameMisconduct63 sums things up with the comment: "If there's one thing I'd like to get out there in this thread, it's that each location has a different set of standards.
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