Russia shuts down McDonalds branches in Moscow

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Russia shuts 4 McDonald’s restaurants for alleged sanitary violations

Russia’s consumer watchdog has shut down four McDonald’s restaurants in central Moscow over “administrative violations.” More of the company 430 Russian franchises are under investigation, a decision it said was over sanitary violations but which comes against a backdrop of U.S. and Western economic sanctions against Russia — and counter-sanctions by the Kremlin banning the import of food from the West — over Russian policies on Ukraine.

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People sit outside closed McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow | Photo: REUTERS

The four restaurants ordered to suspend operations by the state food safety watchdog included the first ever McDonald’s in Russia, which opened in the last days of the Soviet Union, and which the company says is its most frequented in the world.

“Multiple violations of sanitary norms were detected in the sourcing of food and waste disposal in McDonald’s restaurants during inspections carried out between the 18th and 20th of August,” said an official statement from the watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor.

The company has said that it will study the allegations against its franchises, and “will do everything to ensure that the restaurants open as soon as possible.”

“McDonald’s main priority is offering its customers quality and safe produce,” said a statement on the McDonald’s website.

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McDonald’s closed its restaurants in Crimea following the Ukrainian region’s annexation by Russia in March, which some Russian politicians seized on as sign the company should get out of Russia.

The first checks – and subsequent rumors that the entire burger chain may be shut down – took place in the northwestern city of Veliky Novgorod in May.

“The Caesar roll and vegetable salad have been found to contain microbe pollution with E.Coli bacteria and 10 times the safe level of microbes,” the watchdog said in a statement back then. ‘This attests to the fact that the staff breached personal hygiene rules, and the corporate sanitary disinfection regime.”

A separate claim from Rospotrebnadzor said that the nutrition sheets provided by the company did not match the actual content of the burgers on sale.

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Some consumers share that view.

“I am for McDonald’s being wiped from the face of the earth,” said Vladimir Zolotsev, 20, studying to be a pianist, who was near the Pushkin Square restaurant.

It became clear last month that McDonald’s was under heightened scrutiny from the Russian state, when the watchdog said it had identified violations in product quality that raised questions about the safety of food across the chain.

Foreign food producers who have fallen foul of the watchdog in the past have accused it of acting in the political interests of the Kremlin, an allegation it denies.

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.

However, some of these restrictions were eased on Wednesday to allow the import of some items that are useful to Russia’s own food and agriculture industries, such as vegetables for planting and hatchlings of salmon and trout.