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What Keeps a McDonald’s Burger from Rotting

McDonald's Hamburger

UPDATE [10/15/2010]: McDonald’s released a statement in response to the Happy Meal Project. They argue that the burger didn’t rot from lack of moisture: “If food is/or becomes dry enough, it won’t grow mold or bacteria. In fact, any food purchased from a restaurant or grocery store or prepared at home that lacks moisture would also dehydrate and see similar results if left in the same environment.”

We recently posted an article about photographer Sally Davies’ “Happy Meal Project,” which documents the life of a McDonald’s hamburger and fries as they steadfastly refuse to rot. The project is not the first of its kind, and there are reports of burgers that looked about the same after four and even 12 years after their date of purchase. The idea is this: most healthy food will eventually spoil, so how long a food goes without going bad is an indicator of unhealthy ingredients.

So what’s behind the miraculous preservation? As far as the beef patty is concerned, it’s not from preservatives. According to the ingredients list published by McDonald’s, the patty contains 100 percent Angus beef, prepared with a “grill seasoning” that consists of salt (we wonder how much) and black pepper. The high fat content and the high cooking heat are enough to account for the burger’s resistance to decay. Over time, the moisture in the burger will evaporate and the fat will harden, much like it does in arteries of people suffering from atherosclerosis.

The fries and the bun are a different story. A regular bun contains the following:

“Enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, enzymes), water, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, yeast, soybean oil and/or partially hydrogenated soybean oil, contains 2% or less of the following: salt, calcium sulfate, calcium carbonate, wheat gluten, ammonium sulfate, ammonium chloride, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, datem, ascorbic acid, mono- and diglycerides, ethoxylated monoglycerides, monocalcium phosphate, enzymes, guar gum, calcium peroxide, soy flour), calcium propionate and sodium propionate (preservatives), soy lecithin.”

As many others have quipped, this is food you need a chemistry degree to understand, much less make. As you can see, the bread contains calcium propionate and sodium propionate as preservatives, in addition to sugar and salt, which are also preservatives.

We’ll spare you the list of oily ingredients used to make the french fries, but suffice it to say that they use citric acid as a preservative, and require chemicals to “maintain color” and antifoaming agent. Plus, the fries are coated in salt, one of nature’s original preservatives–although little else is natural.

So here’s the long and short of it: not only are these foods full of chemicals, they’re also full of unhealthy fats and sodium, which we knew all along.

Also Read:

A McDonald’s Hamburger: 145 Days Later

McDonald’s Diet

McSmoothie Push Back: The Cheeseburger Chill

September 9th, 2010

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(Page 1 of 1, 7 total comments)


So... they did a study to prove what we already knew about fast food? I can tell you why fast food has trouble rotting - and it's not because it's "not food". It's because it's so salty and heavily preserved to prevent rotting in the first place. This stuff is shipped all over the world. They have to preserve it that much to ship it, although I'd much prefer if they kept their supplies local instead and shipped smaller batches so they didn't need to salt it this much.

As someone with an actual chemistry degree, I can tell you this - that list reads basically thus: Preservatives, sugar, salt, more preservatives, trace amounts of vitamins, fats, oils, fillers. So yeah, basically just what we knew about fast food and junk food all along. In fact, that list reads like the list on most non-whole-food items nowadays. So if you're avoiding fast food based on that list, you might as well also avoid anything precooked, anything in a bag, anything that isn't a whole food, any meat that you don't get local, and any foods that are known to be junk.

You guys need to look at what the nutrition content is, not at the scary chemical list. Did you know that "Niacin" is just a fancy way of saying "B Vitamins"? Stop being scared by the chemical list; you're never going to find any pre-made foods that don't have them, even at healthy establishments, and you'd be shocked to know how many raw materials, like chicken breasts, steaks, even some vegetables have these kinds of ingredients. That whole fruit juice you're drinking might not really be 100% juice. That Slim Jim meat stick you're eating might actually be worse for you than something like Jack Link's whole beef jerky. Those baked potato chips may be no healthier than their fried variants, and you might be surprised to learn that some 'unhealthy' dressings are lower in sodium and fat than some 'healthy' dressings are. People, you've gotta stop fearing the scary chemical list and start looking at calories and nutrition value. Just because a burger has more salt doesn't mean it has more calories or more fat in it. In McDonald's case, it happens to have all three, but it's fast food, what do you expect? Health food? Hardly.

posted Jun 17th, 2012 7:53 pm


The day they disclose what's in the "natural flavorings" they use and start offering WHOLE GRAIN buns, I'll consider going back ot Macs.

posted Jul 28th, 2011 9:24 am

Don Marsolek

About 20 yrs ago I hauled horse meat out of Palestine,Tx. to Otis&Sons in Chicago to go to McDonalds. 100% beef it ain"t !!

posted Nov 11th, 2010 3:06 am

Monica Hughes

Despite the fact that numerous moronic food scientists are saying it's the salt and the fat, it's not the salt and the fat. Here's my experiment on both the burgers and the fries:

posted Nov 8th, 2010 10:39 pm


The sad story is that many of the ingredients used by McDonalds are rather standard in ordinary breadmaking. Many of the ingredients are added to improve the flour in general. I believe In Europe these additives are not required on the label as it would make bread look a non-natural product.

posted Nov 1st, 2010 3:51 pm


Just the motivation I need....thanks!

posted Sep 9th, 2010 6:08 pm


Ouch! I love Mcdonalds cheeseburgers, but the more I learn about them the more I realize that I have to GIVE THEM UP!

posted Sep 9th, 2010 1:38 pm


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