Thursday, September 25, 2014

Touring a McDonald's Supplier: Chiquita Fresh Express

SPONSORED POST: This is a paid post. The Road to The Good Life chose to work with McDonald's for their commitment to providing nutrition information about their food and offering families choices that accommodate allergens and stretch their budget dollars. I am part of the Mom It Forward Blogger Network. All opinions presented are my own.

McDonald's and healthy: two words that thanks to Super Size Me (*affiliate link) aren't words you immediately associate with one another. But have you been to McDonald's lately? Sure McDonald's still sells hamburgers and fries, but there are now smaller portions and healthier options available. Having grown up only eating hamburgers and fries at McDonald's it's rare that I try something new when I visit. That's changing starting now.

What's your favorite thing to order at McDonald's?


Last week I had the opportunity to join a few other bloggers, a couple of nutritionists, and some McDonald's franchise owner-operators on a tour at one of their suppliers, Chiquita Fresh Express. We met early at a McDonald's in San Jose and boarded a bus towards Salinas. The day made me aware of changes McDonald's was making in their menu to give customers more choice and the ability to make healthier choices. I don't think everyone should go out and only eat McDonald's, but if you're routinely grabbing a value meal that includes a hamburger, for your health you should opt for some of their other meals, like the grilled Premium Wraps.

Event Check In Eden in McDonald's Waiting for Bus


Once the bus hit Gilroy, where the many of his 40+ franchises are, Steve Peat, one of the owner-operators talked to us. He introduced the other owner-operators on the tour with us. I have to say I was surprised to find out that many of the franchises in Northern California were operated by families. (There were even a few second generation owners taking the tour with us to understand where their ingredients were sourced from.)

Steve Peat Leading Tour


Steve began working with McDonald's in high school and his story in his words is a true rags to riches story. After college he had the opportunity to manage a restaurant. This began his twenty year career at McDonald's corporate. He then, along with his wife, purchased their first franchise. Now his son-in-law is currently learning the business.

Steve offers his story whenever anyone says McDonald's is a dead-end job, laughing and saying it was a good dead end for him.

The Chiquita Fresh Express Plant Tour

I was especially curious to see how the apple slices McDonald's serves were made, especially since our 2.5 year old daughter Gates eats them. The plant was colder than I'd imagined; product has to be kept chilled to reduce spoilage. Operators work in 32 degree temperatures (slightly higher but the wind chill brings it down to 32 degrees) and have to frequently sanitize as they move through the facility. (The sanitizer bath we put our gloved hands in is just above freezing and with the metal handrails we held onto as we walked up stairs had my fingers turning blue.)

Washing Hands prior to Tour


During the tour, I was surprised to discover that for ten months of the year, McDonald's sources their apples from the United States (two months of the year they arrive from Chile). Most of the apples we see in McDonald's franchises in the Bay Area come from Sacramento and Washington. Currently the apples are being picked and shipped from Washington.

Apples must meet a variety of criteria before they end up in McDonald's. First, apples can't be bruised; this typically occurs because of hail damage. As apples come in they are tested for density and for sugar content. Once a batch is approved, apples are loaded onto the line and rinsed. They travel along on the belt propelled by water to reduce bruising. McDonald's has rigorous standards that suppliers must follow, including no skins on the apple slices to avoid the possibility of children choking. Once washed, apples are peeled and then sliced. Slices must be a perfect half moon and a certain thickness. 40% of the apples that come onto a line on the Chiquita Fresh Express ends up as animal feed.

Apples Being Loaded into Plant


After we toured the Chiquita Fresh Express plant, we headed over to the Innovation Center for a meal prepared solely from ingredients used in McDonald's products. I've watched enough Top Chef gas station challenges to be thoroughly excited about this.


The Meal Prepared by Sakabozzo

The cooking duo Gene Sakahara and Sam Bozzo, known as Sakabozzo, ambassadors of the Garlic Gilroy Festival, took on the challenge of preparing a meal using only ingredients available to McDonald's. Spoiler: I loved everything Sakabozzo prepared.


To start we had Italian Wedding soup, Italian meatballs in beef broth with fresh spinach accompanied by Gilroy Garlic bread. The dish had subtle flavors and the meatballs were moist, not dry and crumbly like some restaurants serve.

While we were offered seconds of the first course, the Italian Wedding soup, and many consumed more soup, I waited for the second course and main entree, not wanting to fill up too quickly. And boy was I glad I did. The main entree was my favorite part of the meal, even going so far as to ask for seconds.

The entree, Chicken Braciole with Amatraciana Sauce (rolled chicken breasts stuffed with white cheddar cheese, fresh spinach, slivered onions, and parsley topped with homemade Amatraciana Sauce (roasted tomatoes, Canadian bacon, and herbs), had a slight kick as they'd added jalapeno peppers to the curing. The meat itself was so tender, it melted in your mouth. I didn't want the entree to end.

We finished our meal with Budino Di Pane a Mela or Old Fashioned Bread Pudding with apple slices. I, for one, am seriously lucky this item is not on McDonald's every day menu. SakaBozzo's secret to a moist flavorful bread pudding was simple; they dried out Artisan bread for a 24-hour period.


My Meal Builder

I firmly believe that you can eat anything as long as you do so in moderation. On McDonald's website is a handy tool, My Meal Builder, for calculating total calories for your meal as well as fat, carbohydrates, sodium, and more. You can subtract components until you come up with a meal that works for your diet.

As I was playing with this I discovered that my typical McDonald's meal actually contains ingredients that I'm allergic to. This underscores my friend's advice to set reminders to regularly double check the ingredients list on foods you eat to ensure that they contain what you expect.

My sad discovery? McDonald's Famous Fries contain dairy. My original go to meal when eating at McDonald's was two hamburgers, small fries, and an ice tea (unsweetened) for a total calorie count of 710 calories (more than I thought I was ingesting). I'd typically have fruit for breakfast and salad and raw vegetables for dinner on the days I ate McDonald's to balance out my splurge. However, now that the fries are off limits, my new meal when I'm on the go or on a road trip will be the Premium McWrap Chicken Sweet Chili (grilled) (it's 360 calories without the Creamy Garlic Sauce that contains Milk), apple slices, and an ice tea (unsweetened) for a total calorie count of 375 calories, a 50% reduction.

The plus side of my discovery, besides a lower calorie meal, is that Gates won't see me eating fries, she'll see me opting for a healthier side. The easiest way to instill healthy eating habits is through actions and now we'll be able to do that when we're on the road and on the go.

What's your favorite thing to order at McDonald's?
genuinely eden

Credits: All layouts designed by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life. All images of SakaBozzo and the three-course meal taken by Eden Hensley for The Road to The Good Life. Images of the tour group and the Chiquita Fresh Express facility taken for McDonald's and used with permission.

DISCLOSURE: This post contains an affiliate link, followed by (*affiliate link). I feature products that I own or that I am considering purchasing. All opinions presented are my own.