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Why are McDonald's ice cream machines always broken? FTC aims to find out

The problem with broken ice cream machines at the fast-food giant is so well known, a McDonald's ice cream fan launched his own website to track which ones work.

TAMPA, Fla. — Anyone who has gone to McDonald's with the sole goal of coming away with a McFlurry has at least once been left McDisappointed. Why? Because of a broken ice cream machine. 

The issue is so ingrained in our society that a McDonald's ice cream fan even created the site McBroken to track which fast-food restaurants have inoperable soft serve machines. Yes, it tracks every McDonald's in the country to see which ones are working and which are down.

McDonald's itself has poked fun at the issue. In 2020, the fast-food giant tweeted "we have a joke about our soft serve machine but we're worried it won't work."

As hope perhaps dwindles for some, the FTC says it is stepping in to investigate the cause. First reported by The Wall Street Journal, the FTC reached out to McDonald's over the summer to ask franchises just what exactly is going on with the "broken ice cream machine problem."

The Wall Street Journal says the FTC sent a letter to franchises looking for information. The FTC declined to comment to the newspaper. 

The FTC's inquiry is "preliminary," and “the existence of a preliminary investigation does not indicate the FTC or its staff have found any wrongdoing,” the agency’s letter said, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

The Hill says McDonald's USA commented on the matter, telling the news outlet it had “no reason to believe we are the focus of an FTC investigation.” 

In July, President Joe Biden signed an order that in part has the FTC scrutinize certain manufacturers' ability to restrict the use of independent repair shops or do-it-yourself repairs. 

This could be why the FTC is probing the McDonald's ice cream machine freezes. According to the Wall Street Journal, some franchise owners have paid to train workers on how to fix the machines rather than waiting for the machines' manufacturer or authorized repair company to fix them. 

Some franchises were using a technology developed by Kytch Inc. that told workers when the machine was broken, and exactly what was wrong with it. But the Wall Street Journal says McDonald's later said those devices were not sanctioned for use. 

Now, Kytch is suing the ice cream machine's manufacturer, Taylor Commercial Foodservice LLC, accusing the company of conspiring to replicate Kytch's technology, the newspaper reports. That complaint is still pending. 

In an interview with the Journal, Kytch's co-founder accused Taylor of "infringing on McDonald’s franchisees’ rights to alter and repair their shake machines as they see fit." Taylor then told the Journal franchise owners can fix their own machines, but the warranty isn't valid if they do it themselves. 

It's unclear if the FTC's probe will soon have soft serve flowing freely at a McDonald's near you, but perhaps there is hope. 

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