You know how people say food from McDonald’s never goes bad because it’s pumped so full of chemicals and preservatives that it might as well be made of plastic? It turns out it’s not just an urban legend and it’s actually sort of true.
They key words here are sort of. First, let’s dispel the notion that anything can be “almost” plastic. You sometimes hear people claim that margarine is “one molecule away from being plastic.” This is completely bogus. Everything in the universe is one molecule away from being something completely different.
Water Carbon dioxide, for instance, is one molecule away from being poisonous to humans: CO2 vs. CO (better known as carbon monoxide). [Ed: D'oh, chemistry 101 brainfart there].
McDonald’s food has some additives in it — almost all mass-produced food does — but it certainly doesn’t have anything that can keep it fresh and free of mold for over a decade. McDonald’s insists that its burger patties are “100% pure beef, with no binders or fillers” and only seasoning (salt and pepper) added.
This brings us to one of the weirdest stories from the world of food we’ve seen in a long while. The video below, courtesy of the syndicated talk show The Doctors, features a McDonald’s hamburger that is reportedly 14 years old. Fourteen years!
So, what the heck is going on here? Is this some kind of cursed Highlander burger that’s immune to the natural decomposition processes found in nature? Is it all a hoax?
The burger has its own website, oldesthamburger.blogspot.com (you couldn’t afford a real website domain registration, old burger owners?), but it doesn’t really provide any answers.
So, I did some digging.
The truth about old hamburgers from McDonald’s is far less scandalous than organic food advocates would have you believe. It turns out that burgers are almost perfectly engineered to not go rotten.
Food blogger J. Kenji Lopez-Alt did some experiments back in 2010 and discovered that the McDonald’s burger he tested “[didn't] rot because its small size and relatively large surface area help it to lose moisture very fast. Without moisture, there’s no mold or bacterial growth.” In other words, it became sort of a hamburger mummy.
Lopez-Alt found that burgers he made at home with no additives showed the same lack of visible decomposition. “There are still plenty of reasons to dislike [McDonald's],” he concluded. “But for now, I hope you’ll have it my way and put aside your beef with their beef.”
The burger in the video above makes a great topic for daytime television — and it certainly got my attention — but it’s no more special than any other burger from McDonald’s. Perhaps the only reason there aren’t more decades-old McDonald’s burgers out there is that very few people have the willpower not to gobble up every bite on their plate.