Edwin Traisman, 91; helped develop Cheez Whiz

Times Staff Writer

Edwin Traisman, a food researcher who helped create Cheez Whiz and, as an early McDonald’s franchise owner in Wisconsin, co-developed the freezing process used to make McDonald’s French fries, has died. He was 91.

Traisman, a resident of Monona, Wis., died Tuesday at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison after suffering a heart attack, said his wife, Dorothy.

He had worked as a director of food research at Kraft Foods Inc., where he was instrumental in the development of Cheez Whiz cheese spread, instant pudding and other food products, before buying the first McDonald’s franchise in Madison, Wis., in the late ‘50s — a time when McDonald’s burgers sold for 15 cents and fries for a dime.

Traisman ultimately owned five McDonald’s franchises — four in Madison and one in Monona — but his claim to fame in McDonald’s corporate lore rests with his work on the humble French fry.

“Ed Traisman made a major, major contribution to McDonald’s and French fries as we know them today,” said Lisa McComb, a McDonald’s Corp. spokeswoman.

All the French fries in McDonald’s restaurants were originally made fresh in each restaurant, with employees peeling, cutting and washing the potatoes before frying them. And McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc had selected primarily Idaho russet potatoes as the best variety for McDonald’s fries.

But, McComb said, there was an issue of year-round crop availability of the Idaho potatoes. In the early ‘60s, she said, “we had 175 different local produce suppliers around the country providing potatoes for French fries. So Ray Kroc was looking to solve this inconsistency problem; he wanted the fries to have a certain taste, color and texture.”

With Traisman’s background in food research, Kroc assigned him and McDonald’s food scientist Ken Strong “to look into the issue of consistency and the possibility of freezing fresh-cut French fries,” McComb said.

“Ed determined that the amount of moisture in the potato before it was frozen was key to its flavor and firmness,” she said, “and he created a process of reducing moisture in the potato prior to freezing.”

Traisman’s “Method for Preparing Frozen French Fried Potatoes” was patented in 1962. That was followed by Strong’s 1968 patent, which McComb said involved quick-frying the cut potatoes prior to freezing and a short steam-blanch that preserved the sugars and other flavors of the potato.

By 1972, the nearly 2,300 McDonald’s restaurants were using the Traisman-Strong method for making French fries.

The son of Latvian immigrants, Traisman was born in Chicago on Nov. 25, 1915. The youngest of six children, he was the only one to complete high school.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1936 and worked as a sugar chemist with the American Maize-Products Co. in Hammond, Ind., for 10 years before joining Kraft as a cheese products researcher.

After selling his McDonald’s restaurants in the early 1970s, Traisman served as a consultant on menu items for a number of years.

In 1975, he became the senior research program manager for the Food Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he was instrumental in helping fund projects dealing with additives and contamination of meat products. He served as editor of the Food Research Institute’s quarterly research report until his death.

In addition to his wife of 44 years, Traisman is survived by five children, Claudia Ward, Barbara Traisman, Steven Traisman, Jenny Denise Traisman-Waddell and Lisa Traisman; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.