McDonald’s ice cream machines have become a meme. Not because of the delicious taste of soft serve or the affordable price. Instead, customers have used social media to complain about how the machines are always broken. Now the Federal Trade Commission is getting involved.

The government agency is investigating the fast-food chain and why its ice cream machines break so often. According to the Wall Street Journal, the FTC contacted McDonald’s franchise owners to gather intel regarding the broken machines, having asked for any information on what the problem might be.

Though the broken machines have become a well-known comedic gag across social media and late-night TV, it has made it difficult for franchise owners to consistently sell milkshakes, soft cones, and the popular McFlurry. When customers try to order one of the frozen treats and are denied because of a faulty soft-serve machine, they get frustrated – rightfully so.

Reports claimed that McDonald’s ice cream machines require an automated heat-cleaning cycle each night which is subject to failure. The four-hour procedure can often make the machine unstable, requiring registered repair technicians to save the day. When multiple incidents arise at once, it becomes difficult for the machines to be fixed fast enough to meet demand.

The Federal Trade Commission has launched a “preliminary investigation,” according to its letter to franchise owners. However, the FTC admitted that the letter “does not indicate the FTC or its staff have found any wrongdoing.”

Despite the Wall Street Journal’s report, a McDonald’s spokesperson explained that the company “has no reason to believe we are the focus of an FTC investigation.” They continued, saying that “intrinsic to the interest in our soft serve machines is our fans’ love of McDonald’s iconic McFlurry desserts and shakes.”

The FTC wants to know why McDonald's ice cream machines always break.
The FTC wants to know why McDonald’s ice cream machines always break. Photo Credit: Popartic / Shutterstock.com

They added that “nothing is more important to us than delivering on our high standards for food quality and safety, which is why we work with fully vetted partners that can reliably provide safe solutions at scale.”

According to reports, the FTC probe is not really about the fact that the machines keep breaking. Instead, it has to do with owners’ rights to repair them. The Biden administration is doing a massive investigation to find out if manufacturers are preventing consumers from fixing products themselves – as is often the case with McDonald’s franchise owners.

Taylor, a manufacturing company, manufactures the ice cream machines, which are known for being extremely difficult to repair. This forces many owners to pay repair costs, contacting the manufacturer directly for assistance. To combat the issue, franchise owners have been utilizing an attachment that alerts them when there is an issue with the machine. It also advises on ways to fix the machine without a repair technician.

Corporate has previously warned owners against using these attachments. To better understand the issue, the FTC has swooped in. It will try to identify whether owners are allowed to fix their machines or are forced to go through the manufacturer.

Customers frustrated they can't get a McFlurry. McDonald's Franchise owner admits its difficult to sell them with broken machines.
Customers are frustrated they can’t get a McFlurry. McDonald’s Franchise owner admits it’s difficult to sell them with broken machines. Photo Credit: pancha.me / Shutterstock.com

To combat the issue, McDonald’s claimed it is working with franchise owners to provide more training for staff to prevent issues with the ice cream machines. The company has also been scheduling routine maintenance check-ins to make sure machines stay in good shape.

The issue stems from a recent lawsuit from Kytch, the company that produces the ice cream machine attachments. The company accused Taylor of preventing franchise owners from altering or repairing their ice cream machines, thus violating their rights. Taylor responded to the accusation, claiming it does allow owners to repair the machines but doing so voids its warranty.

In a court filing, Taylor’s lawyers said that “this is a case of a hacker – Kytch – incredibly accusing the hacked – Taylor – of theft.” The hacking is a reference to the attachment that helps alert franchise owners of problems within the device.

Kytch claimed instead that “this is a case about corporate espionage and the extreme steps one manufacturer has taken to conceal and protect a multimillion-dollar repair racket.”