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Fries wide open

July 10, 2007 10:00 by

As part of a push towards a cleaner, healthier image, McDonald’s recently introduced its ‘Open Doors’ program in the UAE. It’s an attempt to show the fast-food giant has nothing to hide by letting customers walk in off the street and demand to see the kitchens. At least that’s how it seems on the promotional posters. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see that the allotted time for the program only stretches to two hours on one particular day of the week for each participating restaurant. Your correspondent took a tour of the McDonald’s outlet in Spinneys supermarket in Bur Dubai.

After a 12-minute wait (was that enough time to shift a horse carcass, we wondered) the first senior assistant manager, Thomas Jacob, comes to meet us - and another customer who would be accompanying us on the tour - with the requisite aprons and caps that we have to wear in the kitchen. And, disconcertingly, waiver forms for us to sign.

Suitably waivered and attired, we head off into the kitchen. The place is sparkly clean and hospital-ward sanitary. Before we begin the tour, we’re led to the sink where we are shown how to wash our hands “the McDonald’s way.” (Basically the same way anyone washes their hands, but with a diagram and logo beside the sink. And special McDonald’s soap, which “you can’t buy in stores.”) Each member of staff does this every hour, we are told. Or sooner, if they touch their hair, face, or clothing in between times. As soon as our hands are clean we forget the instructions and scratch our ears. No one seems to notice. We keep quiet about the incident.

Grill Sergeant

Every step of the cooking process is regimented with military efficiency. Each burger has a different cooking temperature and time - both fixed by machine so all the staffer has to do is insert the patty into the correct grill. Each food item has a set period it can sit in a particular place before it must be discarded. The fat is separated into different compartments to ensure that the fries, for example, are cooked separately from the McNuggets.

“This is very important for many of our strictly vegetarian Indian customers,” Thomas says. The fat, he insists, is “the purest vegetable oil,” with free fatty acids removed. The burger meat, imported from Malaysia, is “100 percent beef with no additives.” As he says this, he breaks the burger in half to show us. Sure enough, we can’t see any additives. This part of the tour is the only time when Jacob is overtly pushing the corporate line.

Overall, the tour holds no real surprises. Of course the kitchen is spotless. Customers are only going to be allowed in there for two hours in every 168. However, we’d guess that it’s probably spotless the majority of the time. The restaurant operates to McDonald’s global standards, and it can’t risk the bad publicity of unclean cooking areas. Chances are, if you’re looking for kitchen health-scare stories, you’d have better luck elsewhere.

As a PR exercise, the ‘Open Doors’ program is a smart move. And, as with all smart PR, you should take what McDonald’s is pushing with more than a pinch of salt, despite what doctors may say.

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