McDonald’s making a big change to its hamburgers as Cali burger joints turn to robots

PASADENA, CA -- Frozen beef is out. Fresh beef is coming to McDonald's Quarter Pounders and other select burgers on the menu.

McDonald's announced Tuesday that Quarter Pounders in every US store except for ones in Hawaii and Alaska will have fresh beef without added preservatives starting in May.

McDonald's Signature Crafted Recipe burgers will also have fresh beef patties. The change does not apply to Big Macs and regular hamburgers and cheeseburgers.

"The switch to fresh beef quarter-pound burgers is the most significant change to our system and restaurant operations since All Day Breakfast [in 2015]," said McDonald's USA President Chris Kempczinski.

McDonald's has changed its ingredients and menu to shift customers' perceptions about the food. Its latest move also responds to rivals such as Wendy's targeting McDonald's frozen beef in ad campaigns.

"This coincides with a national consumer demand for items that they perceive as healthier and higher quality," said Ernest Baskin, an assistant professor of food marketing at St. Joseph's University.

In 2016, McDonald's removed artificial preservatives from Chicken McNuggets. Last year, it took out preservatives from ice cream.

McDonald's has been tinkering with Happy Meals for several years in response to pressure from public health groups, and to lawsuits for using toys to market to kids.

In 2011, it added apple slices to Happy Meals. Soda came off the menu in 2013. Last year, McDonald's replaced Minute Maid apple juice with its lower-sugar Honest Kids brand juice. And the company said last month that it will phase out cheeseburgers from the menu, although parents can still ask for them.

And in more burger news, a robot named Flippy is now in the kitchen at a fast food restaurant called CaliBurger in Pasadena, California.

caliburger cheeseburger

"The key to success in the restaurant industry is consistency. So anytime you go to a CaliBurger anywhere you know that the patty will be cooked exactly the same," said John Miller, CEO of Cali Group, the company that runs the chain.

The robot was developed by a subsidiary called Miso Robotics.

So how does it work? Before Flippy can get started, it needs a little human help. A co-worker puts raw patties on the grill.

"The kitchen of the future will always have people in it, but we see that kitchen as having people and robots," said David Zito, co-founder and chief executive officer of Miso Robotics.

Flippy's Miso Robotics Team

Flippy uses thermal imaging, 3D, and camera vision to sense when to flip – and when to remove.

"It detects the temperature of the patty, the size of the patty and the temperature of the grill surface," explained Zito.

The device also learns through artificial intelligence - basically, the more burgers that Flippy flips, the smarter it gets. Right now, cheese and toppings are added by a co-worker.

Caliburger Hong Kong

In addition to consistency and safety, CaliBurger says the robot can cut down on costs.

"It's not a fun job - it’s hot, it’s greasy, it’s dirty," said Miller about the grill cook position.

Less turnover means less time training new grill cooks.

"This technology is not about replacing jobs, we see Flippy as that third hand," said Zito.

Menu at Caliburger Hong Kong

Miso Robotics says Flippy costs at least $60,000. CaliBurger is using Flippy in its Pasadena store starting Monday, with plans to expand the use of it at other locations soon.

See Flippy cook a burger from start to finish: