The burger that does not rot… or does it?

Karen Hanrahan, Sally Davies and countless others have documented that the McDonald’s burger, just like plastic, does not decay. Could this be true?

The Experiment

I came across an experiment done by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of A Hamburger Today (read full article here) which aims to answer that question. He compared the rate of decomposition (if any) of a McDonald’s regular burger, a McDonald’s quarter-pounder, and home-made ground beef burgers made in the exact specifications as those McDonald’s burgers.


He observed them for a total of 25 days. What were his results?

  1. The McDonald’s regular burger indeed did not rot! No molds were seen in the pattie!
  2. However, before the McDo burger haters rejoice, surprisingly, the home made regular burger also did not rot… at all!
  3. Both the McDonald’s quarter-pounder and the home-made quarter-pounder had molds growing in them.


What happened?

  1. The burgers shrank as they lost their water content (through evaporation).
  2. And without water, there is no life. No life (bacteria, mold), no decay.
  3. Because of the small size of the regular burgers, they became dehydrated so fast (they lost 93% of their water content in 3 days) that they became inhospitable for growth.


The quarter-pounders, being larger in size took longer to get dehydrated. They needed 7 days to get as dehydrated as the regular burgers. The extra days allowed for spores to grow. However, after the 7th day, when the burgers were already dehydrated, no further growth of the molds was noted.

What this means?

What this experiment showed is that the reason the McDonalds’s regular burgers do not rot is not because of the preservatives in them, but because the burgers  lose their water content very fast. As proof, when he put McDonald’s burgers in zip lock bags (in effect trapping the moisture in), molds grew in them just as fast as those in the regular burgers.


After reading this, I suddenly had the urge to go grab a McDonald’s burger. However, before I could… I decided to read just 1 more article… an article published by the NY Times in 2004.

What’s in it?

  1. McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast foods use processed beef as a component in their ground beef.
  2. What is processed beef? Processed beef comes from the fatty trimmings of cow carcasses which was previously used only as pet food and cooking oil. The fat from the trimmings are liquified, and the protein in them is extracted through a centrifuge. This extracted protein is what is known as processed beef.
  3. Processed beef is described by a USDA microbiologist as pink slime that should not be considered ground beef.
  4. The processed beef is indeed treated with ammonia. It was found to be an effective way to kill bacteria in the beef. Since fatty trimmings have high bacterial counts of disease-causing Salmonella and E. coli.
  5. Although ammonia treatment seems effective, there are some reports of bacterial contamination of beef containing processed beef.

What now?

If you still want to eat fast food burgers, be rest assured that their patties are indeed from cows, that they’re probably free from bacterial contamination, and rots if given the proper environment. But for me, I decided to stick to my resolution… no more fast food burgers for me! Why eat a product made with something initially fit for pets, and cleansed with something I use to clean my toilet bowl?


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