McDonald’s will phase in fresh beef for its Quarter Pounders by mid-2018. (Courtesy of McDonald’s Corporation via Associated Press)

Starting next year, your McDonald’s Quarter Pounder could taste a lot fresher. The company announced Thursday its intentions to switch to fresh, never-frozen beef for its Quarter Pounder burgers in mid-2018. The move is an acknowledgment of changing public perception about the preparation of fast food.

“Over the last two years, we have accelerated the pace of change around how we source and serve our food,” McDonald’s USA President Chris Kempczinski said in a news release. “Delivering fresh beef that’s prepared when our customers order their food is just another example of how we are raising the bar.”

(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

McDonald’s has long taken heat from customers over its ingredients, and overall trends toward more healthful eating have impacted consumer perception of the restaurant chain. In a survey by industry publication Nation’s Restaurant News, McDonald’s rated 110 out of 112 quick-service chains. According to Bloomberg, McDonald’s has seen four straight years of consumer traffic declines — meaning, fewer people are coming through their doors — though global sales increased 3.8 percent in 2016.

McDonald’s uses frozen beef that is prepared in advance, and then stored in a warming tray. The move to fresh beef will change the workflow at each restaurant.

Using fresh beef is a way for McDonald’s to stand tall against its competitors, which include “better burger” chains like Shake Shack, Five Guys, and Chipotle’s new burger restaurant, Tasty Made. Wendy’s has long touted its fresh ingredients as a selling point over McDonald’s, and the chain took a shot at McDonald’s after Thursday’s announcement.

But McDonald’s advantage — its low price point — will likely remain, even with the beef upgrade. Other burgers, like the Big Mac, will continue to use frozen beef.

“We don’t anticipate any significant increase in price,” spokeswoman Becca Hary told USA Today. “Individual franchisees set their own price.”

The move also brings an inherent risk. When burgers arrive frozen, they significantly reduce the risk of E. coli growth, and the standardized grilling and preparation process for each burger is engineered to prevent contamination. Using fresh beef puts a greater responsibility on the employee flipping the burger to adhere to food safety standards.

McDonald’s has made a number of moves aimed at cleaning up its supply chain and increasing customer satisfaction. It now sources cage-free eggs, and antibiotic-free chicken. There is no longer high-fructose corn syrup in its buns, and restaurants use butter instead of margarine. And in 2015, it made its popular breakfast menu available all day long. The company is experimenting with delivery, and mobile ordering. Its competitors are making similar strides: Burger King recently announced that it would eliminate chicken raised in cruel conditions from its supply chain.

McDonald’s has been testing the fresh beef Quarter Pounders in select markets in Texas and Oklahoma for a year, and after positive customer feedback, will expand to the majority of McDonald’s restaurants. Alas, Hawaii and Alaska will miss out: Because of their distance, restaurants in those states will continue to use frozen beef.

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