McDonald’s Hamburgers Won't Rot for Years-Truth! & Misleading!

McDonald’s Hamburgers Won’t Rot for Years-Truth! & Misleading!

Summary of eRumor:
Social media posts show images of burgers and fries from McDonald’s Happy Meals that sat untouched for years without decomposing, rotting or growing mold.
The Truth:
McDonald’s food won’t decompose or rot for years if its stored in moisture-free conditions, but the same is true for most foods.
Claims that food from McDonald’s Happy Meals won’t decompose after sitting untouched for years go back at least 20 years. They’re usually used to argue that food from McDonald’s and other fast food chains are packed with artificial preservatives that render them unable to rot, which means that they are unnatural, unhealthy food options.
One of the first and most well documented accounts of forever burgers came from Karen Hanrahan, the administrator of the wellness site Best of Mother Earth. In teaching a workshop titled “Healthy Choices for Children,” Hanrahan famously used a McDonald’s hamburger from 1996 that hadn’t decayed as a prop to demonstrate that there are healthier food options available for children. In 2008, Hanrahan blogged:

This is a hamburger from McDonalds that I purchased in 1996.

That was 12 years ago.

Note that it looks exactly like it did the very day I bought it.

The flecks on the burger are crumbs from the bun.

The burger is starting to crumble a bit.

It has the oddest smell.

The Happy Meal Art Project is another example of the un-decomposing McDonald’s burger in popular culture. Its creators photographed a McDonald’s burger every day for 137 days, noting the lack of decomposition. Similar examples can be found across the web, and especially on social media sites.
Lucky for us, Serious Eats has logged some serious research. The website documented how nine different burgers — different varieties made at home and by McDonald’s — decomposed. After being left in open air for 25 days, all burgers showed little sign of decomposition or rot:

Well, well, well. Turns out that not only did the regular McDonald’s burgers not rot, but the home-ground burgers did not rot either. Samples one through five had shrunk a bit (especially the beef patties), but they showed no signs of decomposition. What does this mean?

It means that there’s nothing that strange about a McDonald’s burger not rotting. Any burger of the same shape will act the same way. The real question is, why?

Serious Eats concluded that the hamburgers didn’t rot or mold because their small size and large surface area allow them to lose moisture quickly. And, without moisture present, decomposition of beef and bun can’t take place.
Turns out that McDonald’s has said as much, too. Back in 2014, McDonald’s responded to questions about why its burgers rarely rot in the FAQ section of its website

“The reason our food may appear not to decompose comes down to a matter of simple science. In order for decomposition to occur, you need certain conditions — specifically moisture. Without sufficient moisture— either in the food itself or the environment — bacteria and mold may not grow and therefore, decomposition is unlikely. So if food is or becomes dry enough, it is unlikely to grow mold or bacteria or decompose. Food prepared at home that is left to dehydrate could see similar results.”

So, in conclusion, it’s true that McDonald’s hamburgers won’t rot for years at a time if stored in the right conditions, but the same is true for all hamburgers. Their shape and size allow them to shed moisture quickly, which slows decomposition to a standstill. That’s why we’re calling claims about McDonald’s burgers refusing to rot both true and misleading.