Tag Archives: food

Not all McDonald’s franchise owners “lovin” the new menu

By Kim Smiley

Are you “lovin’ it” now that McDonald’s offers breakfast all day? If so, you are not alone because McDonald’s has stated that extended breakfast hours had been the number one request by customers. After recent declines in sales, McDonald’s is hoping that all-day breakfast will boost profits, but some franchise owners are concerned that extending breakfast hours will actually end up hurting their businesses.

Offering breakfast during the day is not as simple as it may sound because McDonald’s are now required to offer breakfast in addition to their regular fare.   Cooking only hash browns in the fryers is inherently simpler than figuring out how to cook both hash browns and fries at the same time. Basically, attempting to prepare breakfast simultaneously with traditional lunch and dinner items creates a more complicated workflow in the kitchen. Complication generally slows things down, which can be a major problem for a fast food restaurant.

If customers get annoyed at increased wait times, they may choose to visit one of the many other fast food restaurants, rather than McDonald’s, for their next meal out. Many franchisees are investing in more kitchen equipment and increasing staffing to support extended breakfast hours, both of which can quickly eat into the button line.  Increased profits from offering all-day breakfast will need to balance out the cost required to support it or franchise owners will lose money.

Franchise owners have also expressed concern that customers may spend less money now that breakfast is an option after 11 am.  Breakfast items in general are less expensive than other fare and if customers choose to order an egg-based sandwich for lunch rather than a more expensive hamburger it could potentially cut into profits.  It all depends on the profit margin on each individual menu item, but restaurants need to make sure they aren’t offering items that will compete with their more profitable offerings.

The changing menu also has the potential to frustrate customers (and frustrated customers will generally find somewhere else to buy their next lunch).  The addition of all-day breakfast has resulted in menu changes at many McDonald’s and more menu variability between franchises.  The larger the menu offered the more difficult it is to create cheap food quickly so some less popular items like wraps have been cut at many McDonald’s locations to make room for breakfast.  If you are a person who loves wraps and doesn’t really want an egg muffin, this move is pretty annoying.  The other potential problem is that most McDonald’s are only offering either the English muffin-based sandwiches or the biscuit-based sandwiches (but not both) after the traditional breakfast window.  So depending on the McDonald’s, you may be all fired up for an all-day breakfast Egg McMuffin to be told that you still need to get there before 10:30 am to order one since about 20 percent of McDonald’s have chosen to go with biscuit-based breakfast sandwiches instead.


There are multiple issues that need to be considered to really understand the impacts of switching to all-day breakfast.  Even seemingly simple “problems” like this can quickly get complicated when you start digging into the details.  A Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, can be used to intuitively lay out the potential issues from adding all-day breakfast to menus at McDonald’s.  A Cause Map develops cause-and-effect relationships so that the problem can be better understood.  To view a Cause Map for this example, click on “Download PDF” above.

Studies have found that at least one quarter of American adults eat fast food everyday (which could be its own Cause Map…) so there are a lot of dollars being spent at McDonald’s and its competitors. Only time will tell if all-day breakfast will help McDonald’s gobble up a bigger market share of the fast food pie, but fast food restaurants will certainly continue trying to outdo each other as long as demand remains high.

Does Turkey Really Make you Sleepy?

By Kim Smiley

Every year around this time, Americans start thinking about turkey and that sleepy feeling that hits after a Thanksgiving feast.  It has been common to blame the bird for the post feast drowsiness, but is the idea that turkey causes sleepiness true?

This issue, just like any big engineering problem, can be analyzed by building a Cause Map.  A Cause Map is an intuitive, visual format for performing a root cause analysis.  To build a Cause Map, “why” questions are asked to understand the cause-and-effect relationships between the different causes that contribute to an issue.  One cause in this example is the  fact that turkey is typically eaten at a tradition American Thanksgiving feast.  The rumor that it causes sleepiness likely came from the fact that turkey contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is found in protein.  Tryptophan is a natural sedative because it used to help the body produce the B-vitamin niacin, which in turn is used to make serotonin.  The body then uses serotonin to make melatonin which helps regulate sleep cycles.  Higher melatonin levels can make a person feel sleepier.

If you stopped the investigation at this point, it might look like turkey is in fact responsible for that post-Thanksgiving nap, but there is more to the story.  The first important thing to note is that turkey doesn’t really contain that much tryptophan compared to other foods.  Turkey actually has less than chicken, which Americans regularly consume without the need for a nap.  Tryptophan is also much more potent when eaten on an empty stomach, which is probably not the case on Thanksgiving Day.

The conclusion is that you can’t blame the bird.  It’s a myth that turkey causes more sleepiness than other foods.  If you feel sleepy after feasting for Thanksgiving it probably has more to do with the work to prepare the meal and amount of food consumed than the properties of the turkey.  But please don’t let this conclusion ruin your fun; feel free to nap the afternoon away anyway.

Happy Thanksgiving from ThinkReliability.  We hope you have many things to be thankful for this year.

Rising Grain Prices 2003-2012

By ThinkReliability Staff

Grain prices have more than doubled since the year 2003, even down from their record high prices in 2008.  Grain is used for food, animal feed, and ethanol.  The demand for grain for all of these uses is increasing, but the supply is not keeping up.  This, along with other factors, has increased the price of grain to the point where it can be disastrous to the world’s poorest citizens.

We can examine the effect of the increased price of grain in a Cause Map.  A Cause Map allows us to lay out cause-and-effect relationships in an easy to understand, visual format.  To begin the Cause Map, we determine the impacts to the goals.  In this case, because we are looking at the grain price increases for the years 2003-2012 worldwide, our goals are broad.  The safety goal is impacted because there has been a high impact on the nutrition of the poor.  Grain prices have led to food riots in many locations, which is another impact to the safety goal.  The environmental goal has been impacted by the loss of usable cropland.  The increase in food prices can be considered an impact to the customer service goal.  Demand outpacing supply can be considered a production goal (considering the worldwide demand and supply).  Lastly, the increase in the price of grain itself can be considered an impact to the property goal.

Beginning with the safety goals: nutritional deficiency and food riots resulting from the increase in the price of food.  The increase in the price of food affects the poor in two ways – it reduces individual buying ability and reduces the amount of food aid that can be bought for the same amount of money.  In short, a country providing a consistent monetary amount of food aid will provide less aid when the food is more expensive.  This double whammy is further worsened considering the impact of the cost of fuel – as it increases, even less food can be bought per aid dollar.

The increase in the price of food is directly impacted by the price of grain.  Grain is used as a food itself, as well as feed for animals that are used for food, and is a component of many other produced foods.  The cost of all these foods go up as the price of grain increases.

Why is the price of grain increasing?  There are many factors that result in the increase in the price of grain.  Firstly the cost of grain goes up as the cost of the fuel needed to transport it and the cost of fertilizer needed to grow it increase.  As the demand for fertilizer grows, the cost grows.  The demand grows, as the demand for all crops grows.

The supply vs. demand equation also contributes to the cost of grain.  When demand increases, and supply does not keep up, cost goes up.  The demand for grain has been increasing – for food to feed the growing population, and to produce input-intensive foods, which actually require more grain.  (For example, about 7 kg of grain are required to get 1 kg of beef.  As the demand for input-intensive foods increases, the demand for grain increases even more.)  The government mandates and subsidies that require the use of grain for bio-fuels – driven by the   increasing cost of oil – also substantially increases the demand for grains.  Making matters worse, in order to attempt to protect their population and agricultural industry, countries have been restricting exports and/or hoarding, further decreasing available supply for trade.

Demand is not keeping up with supply.  The growth in agricultural productivity – which allows for a higher crop yield – has not increased as quickly as demand.  Crops are lost to agricultural pests, droughts and floods, and a particularly virulent strain of steam rust fungus, which has affected many grain crops.  Lastly usable cropland is being lost, due to urbanization to support that growing population, as well as erosion and water depletion, which can be impacted by poor land management.  In many cases, the investment and infrastructure to allow for agricultural advances just isn’t there.

The issues discussed above become a vicious cycle, making solutions that much more difficult and important.  Specifically, world organizations have asked countries to examine their agricultural policies, including ethanol mandates and subsidies, export restrictions and taxes, and hoarding.  Work on advanced bio-fuels or Brazilian sugar cane ethanol can reduce the amount of agricultural land devoted to producing crops for biofuels, rather than food.  Investment and development funds, as well as increased aid, are being sought to help remedy the current situation.  Import taxes into many countries that have food shortages have been reduced or removed to try to reduce the cost of food.  These are big solutions – for a big issue.  It is estimated that 16% of the world’s population is chronically under-nourished.  Further increases in the cost of food will only make the situation worse, without making some of the changes discussed here.

To view the Outline and Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here to read more about the crisis and actions taken by the World Bank.

Is Lard The Misunderstood Fat?

By Kim Smiley

For many of us the word lard instantly invokes images of clogged arteries and heart disease.  A hundred years ago, lard was a staple item in nearly every pantry, but today few of us can imagine cooking with such an unhealthy substance.

But what if lard isn’t as bad as the collective knee jerk reaction would lead us to believe?

While lard is certainly not olive oil, the reality is that lard is actually a relatively healthy option when a solid fat is needed.  This is true because most of the fat in lard is monounsaturated fat, which is healthier than saturated fat.  The fat in lard is 40 percent saturated compared with 60 percent saturated fat in butter.   The partially hydrogenated fats found in vegetable shortening are now considered to be the least healthy option.  While Crisco no longer contains trans-fats, lard has always been naturally trans-fat free.

So how did lard get such a bad reputation?  A Cause Map, a visual, intuitive root cause analysis format, can be built to explore this question.  To view a high level Cause Map of this example, click on “Download PDF” above.

A recent article from National Public Radio tried to answer the question – who killed lard?  The article claimed that a number of factors contributed to the fall of lard’s popularity.  The public became uneasy about the pork industry after the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.  Included in the book was a disgusting scene that depicted workers falling into vats of lard and being sold along with it for human consumption which understandably cooled the public’s appetite for lard.

A second major factor was that an alternative fat product became available that offered an option to a public queasy about the pork industry.  Crisco came on the market, armed with a massive marketing campaign, offering a fat option that wasn’t associated with the pork industry.  The creation of Crisco was possible because of the invention of hydrogenation and a surplus of cottonseed oil.  The oil had previously been used to manufacture candles, but the invention of the light bulb had dimmed the demand.

At about the same time Crisco was hitting shelves, scientist began asking questions about the saturated fat in lard.  Ironically the bad publicity about the health impacts of trans-fats (which were in shortening at the time) was years away, but the early findings that linked saturated fat to heart disease were another strike against the popularity of lard.

Today, lard is making a comeback with foodies, but it still isn’t widely used and it is difficult to find in stores.  Only time will tell if lard will once again became a popular pantry staple.

Deadly E.Coli Outbreak from Sprouts

By Kim Smiley

Since May, at least 31 people have died and nearly 3,000 have been sickened from E.coli infections in Europe in one of the widest spread and deadliest E.coli outbreaks in recent memory.  After days of confusion, German authorities determined that the source of the contamination is sprouts from an organic farm in northern Germany. The farm has suspended sale of produce and won’t reopen until it is determined safe.

This issue can be investigated by creating a Cause Map, an intuitive format for performing a root cause analysis.  In a Cause Map, the causes contributing to an incident are determined and organized by cause-and-effect relationships.  To view a high level Cause Map of this incident, please click on “Download PDF” above.

This investigation is still underway and additional information can easily be added to the Cause Map as it becomes available. The initial source of contamination at the farm had not yet been determined, but sprouts are known have a high risk of carrying dangerous bacteria.

Sprouts are considered to be a high risk food for a number of reasons.  The seeds are often grown in countries with less stringent inspection criteria so they can arrive at growers already contaminated. Seeds can be contaminated in any number of ways.  E. coli live in the gut of mammals so any time animals or animal waste are near sprout seeds there is a chance of contamination.

It can also be difficult to sanitize the seeds.  Bacteria can hide inside damaged seeds and be missed during sanitizing steps.  Sprouts are also grown in warm water, ideal conditions for growing bacteria as well.  Another factor to consider is that many people eat sprouts raw; cooking would kill any bacteria that were present.

Sprouts have been the source of many bacteria outbreaks in the past.  The U.S. has had at least 30 reported outbreaks related to sprouts in the last 15 years.  Sprouts are associated with enough risk that the Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings for those at high risk, (children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems) to avoid eating raw sprouts.  If you fall into the high risk category or are just feeling nervous after recent events, the easiest way to prevent bacterial infection from sprouts is to cook them.

UPDATE: US Beef Recall

By Kim Smiley

I wanted to add a few more interesting facts on the recent beef recall as the ramifications continue to surface.  As a quick recap, on February 17, 143 millions pounds of beef were recalled.  For perspective, that’s enough beef to make every person in the US about two hamburgers.  The scope of the recall is rapidly expanding and it may become the largest food recall in US history.  The full magnitude of the recall is just now becoming apparent because it takes weeks to track down all the products containing the recalled beef.

Take a second to think of all the products in a grocery store that contain beef and you can imagine how large this recall is likely to become.  The amount of food that is going to be destroyed is mind boggling and the cost is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Keep in mind that no cases of illness have been reported, a large amount of the beef has already been consumed, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies the risk to consumers as remote.  Does it make sense to destroy all this food? As you consider the scope of the recall, I ask you also to consider a root cause analysis of the problem.

The previous blog asked the question, what is the best approach to prevent this type of problem from happening again? I still don’t now the answer, but I do know that a recall alone does not solve the initial problems that caused the issue.  What cause really lead to sick cows being mistreated and then slaughtered for human consumption?  A recall deals with the problem after the fact and a good solution would change something in the process prior to the meat entering the food chain.  The USDA has stated that it will not be increasing inspections at food processing plants and I haven’t found any evidence that other changes are being made in the work process at the slaughterhouses.  I’ll be continuing to cook my meat well done.