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Blogger Debunks McDonald’s “No-Rot” Burger Myth

By • Nov 8th, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog

If you saw 2004′s Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock, you’re familiar with the argument.  Diet author Julia Havey’s interview on it became an Internet sensation, as did Karen Hanrahan’s 2008 blog post about it.  And New York photographer Sally Davies has a snapshot-a-day pictorial project on it that’s been going since April:

These folks will show you that, over time, a basic McDonald’s burger does not rot or decompose in any visible, significant way.  The implication is that the average fast-food burg is obviously pumped so full of poisonous chemicals and unnatural preservatives that it is evil incarnate.  As Havey growls menacingly, “There’s no mold, no mildew, no visible signs of rot, age, breakdown, or anything… This can’t be real food.  It can’t be.“  (Cue lightning flash and distant peal of thunder.)

Not so fast, says J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, one of our burger-blogging brethren over at A Hamburger Today.  Lopez-Alt is a brilliant food writer whose work also appears regularly in Cook’s Illustrated, a pub known for taking a very scientific approach to the hows and whys of food.  So he was the perfect guy to conduct an experiment of his own.

Instead of buying a single burger from the Golden Arches and basing cataclysmic assumptions off of what happens to said burger over a course of days, weeks, months, or even years, Lopez-Alt set out to compare a Mickey D’s burger to a homemade burger of the exact same shape and size, using pure beef that he ran through a grinder himself.  He also mixed and matched McDonald’s buns and store-bought buns with both burgers and added a few quarter-pounders to the mix to cover all bases.

He set his burgers on top of a tall bookshelf in his home and waited.  For 25 days.

I highly recommend reading the full results in the fascinating follow-up article that has turned into a genuine news item of its own.  But the basic bottom line is this: a McDonald’s hamburger is so small and thin that it dehydrates before mold has a chance to grow on itNo moisture, no mold. When Havey and Hanrahan flip out because their Happy Meal burgers have turned into beef jerky, they fail to mention that that’s exactly what is supposed to happen.  It’s precisely what happened to Lopez-Alt’s homemade “control” burger.  “How do you think beef jerky is made?” he writes.  (Spurlock’s burger in the Super Size Me experiment turned nasty because it was enclosed in a glass jar, trapping the moisture inside and allowing mold to grow.)

As Lopez-Alt smartly points out, there are still plenty of reasons to dislike McDonald’s.  But if you’re going to paint them as bad apples, make sure you actually compare them to other apples, and have the science to back it up.  It’s not enough to post a pic of a burger bought in 1996 and claim shenanigans just because it still looks pristine:

You may not like McDonald’s burgers, but throwing the clown under the bus by accusing him of injecting billions and billions of beef patties with top-secret fountain-of-youth chemical solutions isn’t really fair.  Give the AHT articles a read… and the next time the mummified 12-year old Happy Meal is given as evidence of the diabolical evil of Fast Food Inc., you can share the rest of the story.

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