Yesterday, the story of a 14-year-old McDonald's burger went viral. The burger looked shockingly unchanged for its age — while the patty and bun appear to have hardened, the artifact shows little sign of deterioration, and there is no mold present.
McDonalds, however, says preseratives had nothing to do with it. The company claims its burgers are seasoned with the same ingredients you'd use to make hamburger at home: "salt, pepper and nothing else."
Here's the full statement from a company official:
McDonald's hamburgers are freshly prepared in our restaurants. While not knowing the conditions in which the food was kept in this specific claim, what is scientifically known is that in bacteria and mold only grow under certain conditions.
For example, without sufficient moisture – either in the food itself or the environment in which it is held – bacteria and mold and associated decomposition, is unlikely. 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.
McDonald's hamburger patties in the U.S. are made with 100% USDA-inspected beef. They are cooked and prepared with salt, pepper and nothing else - no preservatives - no fillers. Our hamburger buns are made from North American-grown wheat flour. These are the same foods that people buy every day in their local grocery stores.
BuzzFeed spoke to burger-owner David Whipple, who expanded on the story that's made rounds on the Internet. The burger, Whipple said, was in his jacket pocket for 14 years, but the first few months were spent in his car, during summer in Logan, Utah, (a dry, high desert climate) where it was purchased. After the summer, the jacket made its way to a closet, where it remained for a decade and a half.
A trial conducted by Serious Eats, under what appears to be more controlled circumstances, pits a McDonald's hamburger against a homemade burger. 25 days later, the author writes, "Turns out that not only did the regular McDonald's burgers not rot, but the home-ground burgers did not rot either."
While McDonald's challenged the suggestion that its burger patties contain preservatives, its buns definitely do.
McDonald's Bakery Style Bun ingredients:
Bakery Style Bun:
Enriched Flour (Bleached Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Whole Wheat Flour, High
Fructose Corn Syrup, Honey, Wheat Gluten, Contains 2% or Less of: Yeast, Soybean Oil, Maltodextrin (Dietary Fiber), Salt, Calcium Sulfate, Dough Conditioners
(Wheat Flour, DATEM, Ascorbic Acid, Azodicarbonamide, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Mono and Diglycerides, Enzymes, Calcium Peroxide), Ammonium Sulfate,
Natural Flavor (Botanical Source), Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Vitamin D3, Rolled Wheat (Topping).
To be fair, those ingredients are not that different from the ones listed on a bag of Wonder Bread:
Ingredients: ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR (FLOUR, BARLEY MALT, FERROUS SULFATE (IRON), "B" VITAMINS (NIACIN, THIAMINE MONONITRATE (B1), RIBOFLAVIN (B2), FOLIC ACID)), WATER, YEAST, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, SOYBEAN OIL. CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: SALT, WHEAT GLUTEN, DOUGH CONDITIONERS (DATEM, SODIUM STEAROYL LACTYLATE, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, AZODICARBONAMIDE, CALCIUM DIOXIDE, AND/OR SORBIC ACID), YEAST NUTRIENTS (CALCIUM CARBONATE, MONOCALCIUM PHOSPHATE, AMMONIUM SULFATE, AND/OR AMMONIUM CHLORIDE), CALCIUM PROPIONATE (TO RETAIN FRESHNESS), CALCIUM SULFATE, SOY FLOUR, VINEGAR, ENZYMES, WHEY, ASCORBIC ACID. IF TOPPED, ALSO CONTAINS SESAME SEEDS OR CORNMEAL. CONTAINS STATEMENT: WHEAT, MILK AND SOY.
The takeaway? In circumstances that would allow a bun and patty to sufficiently dehydrate, it's entirely possible that either a McDonald's or homemade burger would look the same several years later. Which is still unappetizing.