On August 20, McDonald’s was compelled to shut down four of its Moscow restaurants amid reports of alleged food safety violations. The Rospotrebnadzor agency, a Russian watchdog organization, ordered the closures, claiming it identified several breaches of food safety certification at four separate chains. The closings include the first McDonald’s location to be opened in Russia, near Pushkin Square, which is the largest in the country, as well as one near the Kremlin. In total, the international chain has over 400 outlets in Russia, and has been in operation across the country for the past 24 years.
Rospotrebnadzor has reported alleged lapses in food safety training, concerns over wastewater disposal, and the false declaration of ingredients of certain products. In particular, they filed a court claim against McDonald’s last month for allegedly understating calorie values of their burgers and milkshakes by 50 percent and for microbial contamination in other products.
According to Reuters, McDonald’s Russian unit said in a statement: “We are studying the essence of the claims to determine the steps necessary to open the restaurants for the customers as soon as possible.” Russian lawmakers are also calling for a widespread investigation of other American chains in Russia including Burger King, KFC, and Yum! Brands Inc.
The charges against McDonald’s, and its chain outlet closures are raising suspicion that Rospotrebnadzor is targeting the brand for political, rather than food safety reasons. Earlier this month Russia banned all meat, fish, dairy, fruit and vegetable imports from the United States, the European Union, Norway, Canada, and Australia for one year in retaliation for the sanctions imposed by these countries over Ukraine. And in the past, the watchdog has restricted imports from Poland, Georgia, and Ukraine – embargos these countries claim were acts of political repression. The Kremlin denies that the McDonald closures are politically motivated.
Students enrolled in food safety courses and professionals in the field understand that when a restaurant is closed for food safety violations, the business owners (and employees) take a substantial economic hit. Not only does production slow or stop while sanitation concerns are resolved, public faith in the business brand is shaken – which could result in long term financial losses.
A single one of the closed McDonald’s outlets employs over 300 people. The chain regards Russia as one of its top seven markets, and has a substantial network of arrangements with beef and potato suppliers across the country. In a statement on the retailer’s website, McDonald’s emphasizes its commitment to quality food and says, “We will continue taking care of our employees and will do our best to continue the success of McDonald’s business in Russia.”