When you were young, the idea of heading to McDonald’s was doubly exciting. There were Happy Meals (and the inevitable toy, of course), and then, the promise of playing in the PlayPlace. They were the best, right? They were a place to meet other kids, to explore what was possibly the best playground in town, and have adventures you just couldn’t have anywhere else.
Now that you’re an adult… they’re something else entirely.
They’re a little scary, aren’t they? Now, you know they’re potentially disgusting, potentially dangerous health hazards — and some pretty gross things happen there. Adulthood comes with a lot of baggage, and unfortunately, some of that baggage is the realization of just what it was you were playing in and crawling through. Do some digging, and you’ll find some weird things that have happened at PlayPlaces over the years. But don’t worry — we’ve done the digging for you.
Kid finds poop… and a creature
In 2018, a British mother headed to social media to report that her 2-year-old toddler had found something both disgusting and bizarre in the play area of the McDonald’s in Yorkshire Grey, Eltham.
First, the disgusting. It was, of course, poop. That’s not entirely unexpected when children are involved, but still pretty gross. Even stranger though, the child also found a hedgehog. Hedgehogs are not an uncommon sight in Britain, but they don’t usually hang out at PlayPlaces. It had wandered into the play area overnight, and picked perhaps the worst place in the restaurant to hide. This one has something of a happy ending, as News Shopper called in the RSPCA to remove the hedgehog and take it to a local vet.
Strangely, this isn’t the first time hedgehogs and McDonald’s have shared a headline. In 2006, McDonald’s actually changed the design of their McFlurry lids in Britain because numerous hedgehogs had been found stuck in McFlurry cups (via The Independent). The old lids were large enough for them to get in, but they couldn’t back out because of their spines. Apparently, hedgehogs just really like McD’s.
Kids playing with needles
It’s not just kids that love McDonald’s PlayPlaces, that much became very clear very quickly to one family in 2018. That’s when 8-year-old Breylea found a needle in a West Virginia McDonald’s PlayPlace. Ever the good citizen and not wanting the other kids playing there to get hurt, she picked it up and took it to her mother, who then turned it over to the restaurant manager… before taking her daughter to the emergency room after she spotted a "nick" on her daughter’s finger from the needle.
The family spoke to WSAZ about the incident, and reported that Breylea was fine. But it’s not even the first time that’s happened, and in 2014, CBC reported two boys, aged 4 and 2, discovered a plunger and syringe in a Mission, British Columbia McDonald’s. Their mothers only realized what they’d found when they saw them playing with the pieces of the needle, and when they started looking for the rest, they only found some burned foil. The incident resulted in tighter security and video surveillance.
A child finds secret exit
Secret, Narnia-style rooms are awesome, but not if you’re a parent who suddenly has their child go missing. That’s exactly what happened to Angelina Newman, an Auckland mother who had her daughter disappear from a McDonald’s PlayPlace in 2018 (via Auckland Now).
Disappear how? There was an exit in one of the tunnels that neither she nor her family were aware of… until her 4-year-old disappeared. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before they found the girl, who had ended up in the main restaurant in the care of another customer.
Newman said the tunnel exit led into one of the party rooms, and it was only after the harrowing incident that McDonald’s admitted there were three doors out of the play area. While they noted that’s why they told people to supervise their children, Newman said that’s exactly what she had been doing. Not knowing where the multiple exits were meant there was no way for parents to really keep an eye on things. Another customer, Grace Pattillo, found that out the hard way only a few months before. She found another 4-year-old crying in the parking lot after wandering out through another exit, and that’s the stuff of nightmares.
Mom gets banned for her concern
You can probably guess that playgrounds of all kinds get pretty gross, but in 2011, child development specialist and mother-of-four Erin Carr-Jordan launched a crusade against not just McDonald’s, but against all fast food chains that had playgrounds.
After seeing — and videotaping — the disgustingness she found inside fast food playgrounds, she took swabs and sent them off to the lab for testing.Those tests found fecal matter in 90 percent of the playgrounds she tested, and one tube had more than 20 million fecal bacteria living in a single, two-inch space (via ABC News).
If you’re thinking McDonald’s might have taken this as a sign to clean up their act, you’d be wrong — in fact, this is where the weird part comes in. Instead, Los Angeles Times reports that one franchise owner banned Carr-Jordan from their PlayPlaces in the Phoenix area— and she assumes it’s because of her testing. Since then, she’s founded Kids Play Safe, an organization that certifies restaurants that regularly clean and sanitize play areas, and perform regular safety checks of the equipment.
Boy eats… what?!
In 2013, Anishi Spencer sued McDonald’s in what attorney Jeffrey Deutschman called "a very disgusting case" (via Reuters). According to the lawsuit, Spencer took her sons to a Chicago McDonald’s and PlayPlace when one of them — 2-year-old Jacquel Hines — found a used condom on the floor, picked it up, and ate it. Both boys were given medical attention, and Spencer said that Jacquel eventually coughed up a piece of the condom. Sure, any parent will tell you that there’s no amount of training or preparedness that actually gets you ready to be a parent, but this is one eventuality that no one should ever have to prepare for.
The suit not only claimed that McDonald’s was negligent when it came to keeping the PlayPlace clean, but also claimed they should be more aware of the activities that were clearly going on there. Spencer’s attorneys say that every attempt they made to settle the suit was thwarted by McDonald’s. Over a year later, the case was dismissed.
Couple ODs in front of the kiddies
Parents, McDonald’s, PlayPlaces, and heroin, were all mentioned in the same 2014 news story when CBS News reported a couple had been arrested for child endangerment. According to the story, emergency services were called when Robert Paul Palmer and Tamica Lynn Jeffers overdosed on heroin while their 5- and 8-year-old children played in an Ohio McD’s PlayPlace. The New York Daily News (via Penn Live) says it was restaurant employees who discovered the couple and called for help.
Authorities reported that one adult was completely unconscious while the other was just unresponsive, and both later recovered from what police described as "life-threatening overdose." Later, the Palm Partner Recovery Center reported they were each sentenced to six months in jail, with Jeffers receiving a suspended sentence and time served.
Strangely, this isn’t the only heroin-related incident to happen at an Ohio McDonald’s. In 2018, WLWT reported that a mother had overdosed in McD’s with a child in the car… and exactly a week later, they reported the exact same mother had overdosed again — but this time at home.
Employees find poo incident hilarious
We can almost accept there’s a lot of poop in a McDonald’s PlayPlace… at least until it’s your kid that finds it.
According to Fox News, Justina Whitmore’s 5-year-old son was playing in a PlayPlace in Manchester, New Hampshire when he had the misfortune to go down a slide that was covered in poop. The guilty party was apparently another child who had been allowed to continue playing with a dirty diaper, and that’s gross.
It’s about to get more gross.
Whitmore took her son into the bathroom to clean him up, only to find there was no soap. When she approached employees behind the counter and asked for towels, she said, "…they were just laughing and arguing about who should clean it up." That’s when Whitmore says everyone conveniently decided it was time for them to go take a group smoke break or ignore her, leaving her to fend for herself.
"I was at that point just using my bare hands, and fortunat[ly] one of his socks did not have poop on it so I was just using his left sock to scrape it off his skin."
Parents mistake McD’s for their babysitter
Buried in the Reddit thread, "McDonald’s employees, what is the worst thing that has ever happened in the PlayPlace?" are a few comments on how employees and other customers alike have seen parents get confused as to whether or not McDonald’s has a baby-sitting service.
One user, PattyBouvier44, was working there when a customer allegedly reported two children in the PlayPlace with no guardian present. Police were called, and by the time the children’s mother finally returned, the kids had been at McDonald’s for around four hours. That particular time, their mother had been shopping at a local thrift store, but she also explained how she left her kids to play there a few times a week while she did… whatever it was she felt justified in doing.
Fox 19 Now reported on the same thing happening in 2011, when one Ohio mom left her four kids alone at McD’s while she headed off for an "unknown location." She was charged with four counts of endangering children.
Smutty playing cards
PlayPlace staples like the Big Mac Climber are long gone, and some have been replaced by video games like Solitaire. Even those can pose a potential hazard, as one Pennsylvania mother and her 11-year-old daughter found. Jennifer Mudrick’s daughter called her over to one PlayPlace card game to show her the photos on the backs of the cards — conveniently placed and barely covered naked women.
That’s absolutely not the kind of thing you expect to see in a children’s Solitaire game, and the Mudricks complained to management then went to CBS Local’s branch, KDKA. Reporters actually went to the McDonald’s in question and when they got there a few hours after the incident, they found the game was still on and still had the smutty card deck in play. It was only after reporters started asking some uncomfortable questions that management turned it off and referred them to corporate, who later said they were investigating what happened.
McDonald’s covered up injuries
Oh, the good old days. Pinched fingers and banged heads might be something of a rite of passage in PlayPlaces, but the sheer amount of injuries that have happened there are pretty shocking. In 1999, the Sun-Sentinel reported that McDonald’s was in big trouble after it was found they’d covered up more than 400 injuries suffered by children, many on the Big Mac Climber and the Tug-N-Turn merry-go-round.
The last Big Mac Climber disappeared from PlayPlaces in 1993, years before McDonald’s was forced to pay out $4 million in damages to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. We’re not talking bumps and bruises, either. Injuries included 80 children who had broken bones on the climber, and around 20 who had sustained concussions or skull fractures.
The days of the Big Mac Climber are in the past, but even at the time of the suit, it was estimated that around 200,000 emergency room visits every year start out at playgrounds.
Parent cleans up after their kid, shocks employees
Some stories help to restore your faith in humanity. This is not one of those stories.
When one Reddit user asked, "McDonald’s employees, what is the worst thing that has ever happened in the PlayPlace?" they got more answers than they bargained for. There were a lot of poop stories, but the saddest story of all is buried in the thread.
It’s from user Jombafomb, who cleaned up the mess after their son had a poop-related accident in the PlayPlace. They told employees, who responded, "Thanks, that’s the first time that’s happened." When they asked for clarification, employees confirmed that no, it wasn’t the first time poop had happened, that part was a weekly occurrence. Sadly, it was the first time they’d seen a parent clean it up.
Responses were telling as well, with others chiming in with stories about how they’ve seen parents laugh about the messes their kids make before leaving it all for employees to clean up. Yikes.