It doesn’t matter how much of a die-hard fast food fan you are, chances are pretty good that you’ve spent at least some time wondering what goes on behind the scenes. There are undoubtedly some things that are more of a pain to make than others, some things that just sort of slip through the cracks — and it’s not always carelessness, sometimes, it’s just human nature in a work environment where there’s so much going on.
So, what menu items are on the "questionable" list, and why? McDonald’s employees might have the whole menu at their disposal when it comes time for them to order their own meals, but what do they skip? Let’s talk less-than-fresh and questionably clean, and ask yourself: are you going to give these a miss, too? Or will the testimony of a few employees not sway you away from your favorites?
(Although, a bit of a disclaimer: questionable practices that go on at one location aren’t happening at them all, and there are plenty of well-run locations out there who are staffed by managers who insist on cleanliness. This isn’t indicative of all locations by any means, but it might give you an idea of what’s first to be neglected.)
Chicken nuggets might not be the mystery meat they used to be, but according to former McDonald’s employees on Reddit, "Fast food workers of Reddit, what should we NOT order at your restaurant? Why not?", many still give nuggets a miss. At least, they make sure they’re not grabbing some off the stack of food that’s ready and waiting to be served.
Employees say that pre-made batches of nuggets are kept warm by a dual-purpose timer that’s supposed to encourage employees to toss nuggets that have been sitting. But multiple employees say that while they used the timer (it also turns on the warmer), they would rarely throw the nuggets out and make fresh ones. Instead, they’d just reset the timer.
Some say the nuggets tasted just fine even after sitting through several turns of the timer, while others describe the old nuggets as questionable at best. Ask for fresh nuggets, they say, or opt for something else.
Anything from the McCafe machines
One McDonald’s employee on Reddit goes into some extreme detail when it comes to explaining just why they refuse to drink any beverage that comes out of the McCafe machine. They say it’s incredibly difficult to clean completely, and that in their experience, it’s one of the machines that gets routinely neglected. They describe the insides as being caked with inches of gunk, and claim they’ve seen it at multiple locations.
This is one instance where it really depends on the staff at each location, and several other employees chime in to say their store cleans their McCafe machine on a nightly basis. They say it takes 30 to 45 minutes to clean the machine properly, so it’s easy to see how it might not get done regularly at a location where the staff is less than diligent about cleanliness or not trained in the proper procedures. Some employees know not to take the risk.
A number of McDonald’s employees have taken to Reddit and social media to warn people away from the Filet-O-Fish. Former employees on the Reddit thread "Restaurant chain workers, what dish should we not order and why?" say they avoid the Filet-O-Fish — or, at least ask for one that’s made fresh, as others have probably been sitting in a heating cabinet for hours. Other employees say the same thing, and note it’s also one of those sandwiches that’s just impossible to make neatly. The combination of tartar sauce, cheese, and slightly greasy fish means that when you get it, it’s going to be a sloppy mess.
While some locations likely make fish fresh, it may be limited to locations with particularly diligent managers who go the extra mile to make sure everything they put out is fresh. Others also say the sandwich tastes good no matter what, but if employees won’t eat the ones that have been sitting in the heat cabinet for hours, why should you?
Smoothies, milkshakes, and sodas
One McDonald’s employee on Reddit warned others against ordering smoothies from McD’s, because once again, the McCafe machines are not to be trusted. Not only would they not drink them themselves, but there were times that they just told customers the machine was down, because it was so disgustingly dirty they didn’t feel right serving anything out of it.
Other employees chimed in saying they avoided the things that came out of pretty much most machines, including sodas and milkshakes. Milkshake machines were, in their experience, definitely not cleaned every day and tended to accumulate a crusty build-up. Cleaning cycles were run every two weeks or so, and they described it as "legally ok". Soda machines weren’t even done that often, and were almost always full of sludge. According to one employee, their Coke representative said most machines he serviced were full of syrupy gunk. Now you know.
McFlurry and the soft serve
In 2017, social media had a meltdown when a McDonald’s employee from Louisiana posted pictures of the drip tray he pulled out of the ice cream machine at his location. According to the employee only identified as Nick (via Independent), the drip trays were pretty much never cleaned, and typically filled with a moldy, rotten goo.
McDonald’s issued a formal response that said, in part, "This is a part of our soft serve equipment that does not come into contact with any food and is required to undergo regular and timely cleaning." Nick was fired not long after his post, but he’s not alone in his warning.
In the Reddit thread, "AMA Request — Someone who works at McDonald’s and can explain why the ice cream machine is almost always down", some employees spoke up with less-than-appetizing responses. One 5-year employee said the machines were always dirty, too — and they suggested heading somewhere else for an ice cream fix. Another employee spoke to their location’s true problems: employees who didn’t care enough about any part of their job, including the complicated process of cleaning an ice cream machine. So… yuck.
Egg white breakfast sandwiches
McDonald’s — and other fast food chains — have made huge strides toward making their menus healthier, or at least offering customers healthy options. According to employees answering one Reddit thread, their egg white sandwiches aren’t nearly as healthy as you think you are, and the people that are actually cooking them avoid eating them.
It’s all in the preparation method, and they say that there’s a ton of butter sprayed on the grill and on the ring molds to keep the eggs from sticking. All that’s piling on the fat and calories, so it turns out that your "healthy" choice isn’t so healthy after all. It gets worse — other employees chimed in to say that calling it "butter" was a bit of a misnomer, and "butter substitute" was probably more accurate. Either way, they say egg whites aren’t the way to eat healthier there.
Grilled chicken is another option you might gravitate toward if you’re thinking you want something that’s at least slightly healthy, but according to employees on Reddit, you might want to do what they do and avoid it.
According to one employee on the Reddit thread "IamA McDonald’s manager AMA!", anyone thinking about ordering the grilled chicken should think twice. They called it "horrible frozen chicken that we defrost and steam and it’s a bit gelatinous"… and nothing about that sentence suggests it’s either grilled or healthy.
Other employees chime in with other opinions suggesting it might not be so bad after all (but that when it comes to deliciousness, it doesn’t have anything on their crispy chicken). If that’s not enough to dissuade you, another employee from the Reddit thread "IamA McDonald’s employee […] AMA" said they avoided the grilled chicken for another reason: it was so rarely ordered that it was likely to have been sitting for a long, long time. While others say that wasn’t the case at their location, a few employees chimed in to verify a grilled chicken sandwich might sit for hours.
"Healthy" items in an attempt to be healthy
According to one employee on the Reddit thread "IamA McDonald’s manager AMA!", a lot of the items customers might think are healthy are ones that the employees know absolutely aren’t. They say there’s a lot of secret stuff that goes on to make these apparently healthy options not-so-healthy after all, starting with the wraps.
Wraps are usually a great option, and they help cut out all the carbs of bread. But McDonald’s wraps? That’s deep fried chicken in there, and that’s definitely not healthy. The veggie patties are also deep fried, which negates any hopes for a healthy lunch there, too. We haven’t even started in on their salads, that are not only topped with dressing that’s horrible for you, but that might have all kinds of other issues, too. (Be sure to check how fresh they are before you dig in, as employees warn they may be old.) Employees also say the chicken is always pre-cooked and frozen, and add that if you’re looking for something that’s better for you, the beef is actually the way to go.
When askReddit asked, "Fast food workers of Reddit, what is the one menu option at your employment that you would recommend people never eat?", one McDonald’s employee simply responded with McDonald’s sweet tea. They say there’s an entire pound of sugar in each gallon of tea, and can that possibly be right?
Take a peek at McD’s nutritional information, and you’ll see that the small has 90 calories and 0 fat, making this masquerade as a healthy option. But that same small beverage also has 21 grams of sugar, and to put that in perspective, the NHS recommends the typical adult restrict themselves to only 30 grams of sugar every day. You’re way over that if you order the large, which comes with a whopping 38 grams. While everyone might expect sweet tea to have some sugar, no one expects it to have almost twice the sugar as a Coke. A small Coke comes in at just 12 grams of sugar and 45 calories, so listen to employees and just give this one a miss.
This might break the hearts of a ton of fans of McDonald’s McRib, but according to the employees of the Reddit thread "Fast food workers of Reddit, what is the one menu option at your employment that you would recommend people never eat?" the McRib was on the top of the short list for a lot of people.
One former employee says they saw it before it was sauced, and would never, ever actually eat it. They even described the pre-sauced McRib like this: "It doesn’t look like meat at all, it looks like a scab."
Is there a more disgusting way to describe a pseudo-burger? Other employees volunteered that in spite of the McRib’s cult following, not a lot of people actually ordered it. That meant the already funky-looking patty would spend all day in the sauce, making it even funkier. It turns out that bun might be hiding a lot, and if employees won’t eat what they see, maybe you should give it a miss, too.
Even if you’re suspicious of McDonald’s full-size, fat- and calorie-heavy salads, you might think one of their side salads is an easy, healthy option for a quick lunch. But according to employees (via News.com.au), side salads are not the way to go.
While they’re usually stickered with a date, that sticker may not be the original one. Employees say that they’re not a popular item, but managers that don’t want to waste them will simply have employees re-sticker them with a new date. At least one employee has said it’s a part of their daily routine, and that’s pretty cringey — especially considering the difficulties McDonald’s has had with their salads in recent times. They made headlines when they pulled thousands of salads from their stores across the Midwest in 2018, and whether or not that’s changed the undoubtedly unofficial procedures around their side salads, that’s uncertain. A good rule of thumb? Don’t order the unpopular thing.
No one goes to McDonald’s just for a dessert, but while you’re there, you might be tempted to add something sweet onto the end of your order. But according to what employees told Reader’s Digest, you might want to rethink ordering that one dessert you can tuck in your bag and save for around 4 o’clock, when you really need a pick-me-up.
That is, of course, the apple pie. Employees say they tend not to get ordered very often, so there’s a good chance they’ve been sitting on the shelves for a very, very long time. That seems like it’s only going to get worse: when McDonald’s released their new-and-improved Baked Apple Pie, Inc. reported that pretty much no one was happy about it. Given the amount of hate the new pies got on social media, it’s safe to say they might be sitting there even longer… especially if the masses decide not to embrace this new, healthier, happier dessert.
Burgers with small patties
The Redditor behind IAMA former McDonald’s Employee; I know all of their secrets had some unsettling words of warning to share, and warned customers against ordering burger with small patties.
Those are the ones that come on a standard hamburger or cheeseburger, and here’s why they said they made sure they didn’t order these. "Those things come off of the grill still red with blood and then we would shove them in the trays where they would stay for hours."
Responses were mixed, with some people pointing out that’s just how you make a good burger. But the Redditor continued that they were told to only partially cook the burgers, which would then finish cooking when they were stacked in the tray. Others volunteered that they had found out the hard way that when it’s super busy, the patties aren’t in the tray long enough to cook all the way through, and customers get undercooked patties.
Sometimes, it was so busy those patties don’t even make it to the heat cabinet, and yet another Redditor said they had found the grills were almost always improperly calibrated for cooking this way. Food for thought!
What could possibly be wrong with the ketchup at McDonald’s? A lot, according to one McDonald’s manager answering questions on Quora.
It’s those ketchup dispensers you should be really wary of, and if you’re going to be eating in the restaurant, you might want to consider asking for ketchup packets. Apparently, employees tend not to clean the whole dispenser often, and only refill it with ketchup when it needs to be topped off. On good days, parts of the dispensing unit might be cleaned, but customers beware: there’s a lot that’s behind the counter that just can’t be seen by someone filling those little white cups.
"Who knows when the bags were last changed," the manager says. With only the easily accessible bits and pieces of the dispenser getting washed on anything close to a regular basis, what results is a clean-looking machine above and old ketchup below. Play it safe, and grab some packets.
Brand new or limited edition items
We all know that what you get on your tray probably isn’t going to look much like the commercial, but when it comes to certain items, the McDonald’s employees who spoke to News.com.au say they’re more likely to be a mess.
Anything that’s just been added to the menu or is only on for a short amount of time is likely to be made fairly badly — and probably wrong. According to the former employee, "Nobody knows how [to] make it and I can guarantee you it will be made wrong or missing ingredients."
It’s not entirely surprising, after all — adding items and changing a menu means there’s a learning curve, and it’s not like the kitchens at McD’s have the time to slow down. And no one likes that feeling of disappointment when they get back to their desk, only to discover that the lunch in front of them is nowhere near the lunch they thought they were going to order. Buyer beware: and stick to those tried-and-true favorites.
Anything… without asking for it to be fresh
No one can argue that McDonald’s is some seriously high-quality cuisine, but it can be pretty good. There are some days when you just need some McDonald’s’s fries, and when you only have a short half hour for lunch, it’s pretty much perfect for a hot meal on the go. But according to some employees and ex-employees, you shouldn’t order anything without taking a few extra minutes to specify you want it made fresh.
One Redditor said that it had been their experience that their coworkers didn’t care how long something had been sitting there, they’d just keep resetting the timers… for hours on end. "I occasionally make it a point of ‘accidentally’ ruining product in some fashion," they admitted. "Coworkers hate me for it, but management knows I am just trying to keep fresh food going without directly tossing food into the waste bucket."
That’s nauseating. Another Redditor shared similar thoughts, saying, "… 9/10 times when that timer goes off, people just reset the timer…"
Just because it’s fast food, that doesn’t mean you should settle for anything but the freshest. The Redditor behind IamA McDonald’s Employee AMA! agreed, saying it’s definitely worth a few minutes of your time to wait for your order to be made fresh.
This one’s a little different. In 2013, McDonald’s warned employees against eating too much fast food on their own employee website. According to NBC News, the warning was posted on their resources site, and read, in part: "While convenient and economical for a busy lifestyle, fast foods are typically high in calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt and may put people at risk for becoming overweight." Along with the warning was a photo of a hamburger and fries.
Other parts of the post warned cheeseburgers were generally an "unhealthy choice," and even stranger, the fries and soda also featured in the post were McDonald’s red — even though they were missing the logo.
And that’s the most bizarre bit of employee advice of all: McDonald’s employees recommending that their own employees not eat much of their own food, because it’s inherently unhealthy. McDonald’s responded, saying a healthy diet was all about balance, but it’s still odd advice to give to employees.