Business / Companies

McDonald's runs out of French fries in Venezuela

(Agencies) Updated: 2015-01-08 17:46

Forget the French fries. How about a side of yuca with that BigMac?

Venezuela's more than 100 McDonald's franchises have run out of potatoes and are now serving alternatives like deep-fried arepa flatbreads or yuca, a starchy staple of traditional South American cooking.

McDonald's is blaming a contract dispute with West Coast dock workers for halting the export of frozen fries to the country. The dispute also caused several days of French fry rationing in Japan last month. But Sonia Ruseler, an Argentina-based spokeswoman for Arcos Dorados, which runs McDonald's restaurants in Latin America, declined to say on Tuesday why Venezuela's neighbors are not suffering from similar scarcity.

Accustomed to shortages of their favorite foods, and equally in the habit of grumbling about the government as they walk away empty-handed, many Venezuelans assume the embattled socialist administration is to blame.

"It's because of the situation here; it's a total debacle," said Maria Guerreiro, who huffed out of a Caracas McDonald's with her family when she found out they were serving only fries made of yuca, which is also known as cassava. Her daughter does not eat the super-starchy root, she said, and they had come for the sole purpose of treating the 2-year-old to a Happy Meal.

Ruseler said the corporation is working to resolve the shortages, and in the meantime, "will continue to give our clients the McDonald's experience, offering 100 percent Venezuelan options".

Rival Burger King, meanwhile, used sly social media posts on Tuesday to remind Venezuelans that some fast food chains are still offering American-style fries.

John Toaspern, chief marketing officer with the US Potato Board, noted that Venezuela's import of frozen potatoes fell off a cliff long before the labor dispute escalated. During the first 10 months of 2014, the country imported just 14 percent of the frozen fries from major McDonald's supplier Washington State that it brought in for the same period the year before, according to federal data compiled by the board.

Most of the shortages in Venezuela are driven in part by the country's tight currency controls, which make it hard to get dollars at a subsidized rate for imports while creating a thriving black market for currency.

Honey, there is a tooth in my chips

A human tooth was served with French fries at a McDonald's in Japan last year, reports said on Wednesday, the latest in a series of recent woes involving contaminated nuggets and a chip shortage.

A customer complained to the Japanese arm of the fast food giant after finding a foreign body in a serving of potatoes from an outlet in Osaka, television networks said.

The item had apparently been deep fried.

Independent investigations ordered by McDonald's determined that it was a tooth, broadcasters said, citing the results of the probe. A statement from McDonald's given to the woman, obtained by a TV station, said the object was "believed to be a tooth".

"I received an apology only when the store manager came over," the customer, whose name was not revealed, told the JNN network. "The manager didn't really talk about how it got in and what action they will take in the future.""I have a small child and it terrifies me to think that they could have eaten it and choked," she said.

The store manager who visited her said the tooth had been "fried", she reportedly said.

The Asahi network said it was not known how a tooth could have been mixed with the fries.

McDonald's said there were no employees missing a tooth at the outlet and it believed there was a very low possibility of contamination at the US factory that had shipped the chips, the network reported.

No one from McDonald's was immediately available for comment, although the company was expected to hold a press conference later on Wednesday.

The incident is the latest public relations setback for the firm, which has seen its reputation suffer in Japan.

McDonald's has previously confirmed a customer found a piece of vinyl inside a chicken nugget sold by an outlet in the northern city of Misawa and that there was a similar case of contamination at a Tokyo branch.

Reports also said a tiny piece of plastic was found in a sundae in the northeastern city of Koriyama in December. Those finds came after the burger giant was forced to switch nugget production to a Thai company in the wake of a food scare at one of its Chinese suppliers.

In July, Chinese officials shut food-supplier Shanghai Husi Food Co following a television report alleging the plant mixed out-of-date meat with fresh product that was then supplied to McDonald's and other major fast food chains. Late last year the company had to airlift an emergency supply of French fries from the US after a chip shortage had resulted in rationing at its 3,000 restaurants across the country.

Labor disputes on the US West Coast had hit exports, leaving Japanese firms scrambling to secure fresh supplies.

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