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As It Turns Out, There’s Nothing Scary About the Un-Rotting McDonald’s Hamburger

You remember those frightening videos of the McDonald’s hamburgers that sat on a plate in the open air for weeks and weeks but never rotted?

McDonald's
AP
McDonald's

Well, it turns out that a lot of people were drawing exactly the wrong conclusion from the videos. Far from demonstrating that there was something queer about a McDonald’s hamburger—too much salt, too many preservatives, genetic modifications—the video was demonstrating that a McDonald’s burger is pretty much like any other burger.

First, for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, here’s the one of the more famous McDonald’s hamburger videos.

The reaction to this was pretty wild. Gizmodo said it was “scary and gross.” Good Morning America did a segment on the “experiment,” which did little to challenge the notion that something odd was going on.

The official response from McDonald’s was to argue that its burgers do not have additives—other than pepper and salt. So why don’t they rot? McDonald’s pointed out that food will only mold or grow bacteria under certain circumstances—including the presence of sufficient moisture to allow for something to live on the burger.

“If the food is/or becomes dry enough, it won’t grow mold or bacteria,” McDonald’s said in its statement.

This reply was, basically, scoffed at. Here’s Gizmodo scoffing:

It's hard to believe that a burger sitting on a living room in New York for six months can get mummified, like McDonald's is implying. Even with the A/C unit on, the humidity in NYC is extremely high, especially during the summer months.

To be fair, the correct scientific test would have been to place a fried steak on a plate next to the burger. However, I have the feeling that the steak would have decomposed in a just few days.

And there’s the catch: a really scientific experiment would require a control to demonstrate whether the McDonald’s burger is actually different from other burgers. Suggestively, the woman who conducted the experiment is a self-styled vegetarian—which may indicate that she doesn’t have much burger-experience against which to judge the performance of the McDonald’s burger

Well, the folks over at A Hamburger Today actually did the experiment. They placed a McDonald’s hamburger side by side with a hamburger made of store bought ground chuck. After 25 days, both burgers shrank and hardened—as they had in the vegetarian’s experiment—but neither grew mold.

Why don’t they mold? Well, a similar experiment was conducted on two larger burgers—a Quarter Pounder and a similar sized burger made of store bought chuck. The result—both molded.

This suggests that the small burgers simply lose their moisture too quickly to support the growth of mold. Indeed, weighing the burgers shows that this is the case. The smaller burgers lose their “water weight” far faster than the bigger burgers, providing less time for mold to grow.

As a further control, the folks at A Hamburger Today placed a McDonald’s hamburger in a plastic storage bag to see what would happen if the moisture couldn’t escape.

Guess what? It molded.

(Hat tip: Consumerist)

So whatever you think of McDonald’s burgers, you don’t have to fear that they are made of some kind of non-rotting super substance brought to earth by that extraordinary object in our cosmic neighborhood.________________________________________________________

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