Japan’s McDonald’s said that four franchise restaurants sold outdated salads, yoghurt and shakes and voiced fears that the news would estrange hard-won customers.
In the latest food safety incident to hit Japan, the US burger giant’s Japanese branch said that four of its outlets slapped fake labels on day-old salads to sell them as fresh.
“This is the first time we have had such a problem since we started business in 1971,” chief executive Eiko Harada said, referring to the year McDonald’s opened as the country’s pioneering Western fast-food restaurant.
“We have looked at the downside risks to our company in terms of losing customers after this, especially since we’ve had such strong business performance in recent years,” he said.
The McDonald’s restaurants, all of them in Tokyo, sold salads containing expired eggs and tomatoes “occasionally” over the past one to two years, Harada said.
He said the salads did not pose a health risk or violate the law, but broke McDonald’s policy of selling food within 12 hours of preparation. The staff falsified the labels because they thought dumping the food “was a waste,” Harada said.
“Such an expression is unthinkable as McDonald’s wastes very little,” he added, although he acknowledged that some managers “could have felt some kind of pressure” not to waste.
McDonald’s Japan said it also likely sold outdated yoghurt and shakes, with a staff member confessing Tuesday he or she may have used expired ingredients.
McDonald’s has expanded rapidly through Japan in part by allowing one-third of its 3,800 restaurants to be franchises run by 353 owners.
The company said it has taken over control of the four restaurants in question since the food label incidents were revealed in November.
“But I don’t think it’s a problem with our franchise business model but a problem with one owner,” Harada said.
McDonald’s Holdings Company Japan has returned to profit in recent years in part by luring customers with a supercheap 100-yen (90-cent) menu.
Japan has seen a string of food scandals in recent months with companies ranging from an elite confectionary to the Mister Donut chain accused of using expired products.