The fast food universe is an interesting one. Every day, millions of customers walk into outposts of fast food chains all across the globe, place their order, and walk away with exact copies of the same dish folks are eating at (almost) every other location, all of which are assembled in the blink of an eye. But it’s a lot more difficult than it looks to maintain that level of consistency across the board, and there are some tricks (and some other secrets) involved in the process that fast food restaurants would probably prefer you didn’t know about.

When you place your fast food order, a whole lot of interesting things happen behind the scenes that you don’t see. While you can always catch a glimpse of the fries being scooped into the container (that’s within view for a reason), everything else back there looks like a high-tech jumble, though it’s actually very organized. Every component of every dish has its own place, in a specific location to make it as easy as possible to locate and use. At most fast food locations, hot items like burger patties and chicken nuggets are made in advance and kept warm in a heating tray for a set amount of time; after that they need to be thrown away (or repurposed, which we’ll get to later).

In short, working at a fast food restaurant is completely different from working at any other type of restaurant. There’s no garde manger to prepare the appetizers, no saucier in the back mixing up the béchamel sauce. A fast-food restaurant functions like a well-oiled machine, with a system that’s easily scalable and replicable across the board.

In order to maintain what is actually a pretty high level of quality while also keeping costs down, fast food chains need to implement some procedures that are less than savory, but recently a handful of former employees took to Reddit to give us a glimpse behind the scenes. So read on for some of their most shocking confessions, as well as a handful of other menu hacks, tips, and tricks that fast food chains would probably prefer you didn’t know about.

1. Ice machines aren't easy to clean



Take a peek up into the ice dispenser before you next use one. There’s a chance you might see mold up there, because they’re nearly impossible to clean.

2. McCafe machines aren't easy to clean, either

McCafe at Piazza del Duomo with Cathedral reflection, Milan, Italy

McCafe at Piazza del Duomo with Cathedral reflection, Milan, Italy (iStock)

We’re not going to get into the messy details, but if you believe what people post on Reddit, those McCafe machines at McDonald’s are also quite difficult to clean, so they tend not to be thoroughly sanitized very often.

3. Don't ask for lemons or limes



In any bar or restaurant, the lemons used in drinks are usually the most unsanitary food item around (and are occasionally the culprit behind a bout of food poisoning). The reason? They’re usually not washed, are handled by several people, and spend a lot of time sitting around out in the open.

4. Chicken nuggets do a lot of waiting around

chicken nuggets

heap of chicken nuggets isolated on white background (iStock)

At McDonald’s, McNuggets sit in a warming tray all day, waiting for someone to order them. They’re supposed to be thrown away after a set amount of time, but usually, according to some former employees, at least, the timer is just reset.

5. Wendy's chili meat is repurposed burger



It would admittedly be a bit of a waste to throw out all the hamburgers that sit on the grill too long to serve to customers, so at Wendy’s they’re placed inside a bin in the refrigerator, then repurposed by being boiled, chopped up, and put into the chili. It may sound odd, but it’s actually pretty smart.

Discover what other secrets fast food restaurants don't want you to know.

More from The Daily Meal

9 Scary-Sounding Chemicals Lurking in Your Fast Food

Fast Food Joints Defend Use of “Shoe Rubber" Chemical

These 10 Fast Food Items are Still Loaded with Trans Fats

Chemicals in Plastic Found in Food and More News