Newsflash: Food Rots; Even Junk Food and Yes, McDonald’s

This is going to be a somewhat quick post to write, and you know why?

…Because I don’t have to link to any of the BULLSHIT! about any of the various sorts of McDonald’s meals that wont rot or decompose and the reason I don’t have to do that is because everybody and their extended family has seen the hyperbole by Morgan Spurlock, Sally Davies, Mike Adams and others, has forwarded breathless emails to their entire address book, posted links to their Facebook pages and, how could they possibly resist…? Tweeted with self righteous glee.

I saw this for the first time probably well over a year ago, thought it was bullshit then and dismissed it as such.

Then some weeks back it raised its ugly head again; someone brought it up in comments and longtime reader Monica Hughes, who happens to hold a PhD in biology (focussed in mycology, i.e., fungi), piped up, saying that it was probably a case of a lack of moisture — as molds can even attack polycarbonate (CDs DVDs) if conditions are right.

We discussed doing an experiment and she went ahead and did it with various decent variable control; i.e., such things as comparison with home made food, moisture content, salt and so forth.

You can see the previous posts and the results in video thus far right here: Of Mushrooms, Molds, and McDonald’s: Day Nine.

The bottom line? Food pretty much rots whether it’s made by EEEEVILLLLL!!! McDonald’s, or the nice little old lady down the street.

You know, I love many things about the whole paleo movement but certainly not the same tendencies to confirmation bias, wishful thinking, plain old Bad Science (or no science), hyperbole, propaganda, and misdirected exuberance we see in promoters of vegan and low-fat agendas.

Real food with care taken to source and prepare it is always best. No argument. But it’s wholesome because it stands on its own. McDonald’s or any other fast food outlet does not have to be unjustly smeared to make local, wholesome, organic food appear better.

Let’s keep it real, folks, and keep our heads about us.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. David Csonka on November 1, 2010 at 11:55

    I’m sorry Richard, but if this study is not peer-reviewed it just does not count for reals. Science should not be practiced at home. Think about the confounding variables that could result, like cats knocking over containers or hungry children eating partially molding french fries!!!

    • Melissa on November 1, 2010 at 12:58

      hahaha for realz

    • Monica on November 1, 2010 at 13:39

      David, did you see the video of the guy at Serious Eats who had that happen? (Not the children part… the pet part.) He concluded the experiment after 4 hours and there were a few crumbs left on the plate by the dog and cat. He concluded that it must have been the part containing the preservatives that they left. HA.

    • Mark Vaughan on November 4, 2010 at 12:01

      Science should and can be practiced everywhere. As long as there is a clear list of equipment and procedure along with the results then science is science. The thing is, when it is done at home, all of the possible confounding variables need to be considered and factored in. Obviously the experiment that can best control the variables is probably the most reliable.
      The point is though, this burger experiment and the other one linked at the end of this comment (complete with organic burger control) are infinitely better than the ‘art experiments’ that have proven that McDonalds burgers don’t rot.

  2. William Marcum on November 1, 2010 at 12:18

    I agree it is a load of bullshit. Younger brother showed me a video recently of a happy meal over some stretch of time and I had to try and explain the fact that it was probably dried out purposely for the photos. Unfortunately I didn’t succeed as he’s convinced McDonald’s food is now so well preserved he could say, stock up on it for the apocalypse. Oh well right?

    • Richard Nikoley on November 1, 2010 at 12:36

      Beans, rice & grains don’t decompose either if kept dry.

  3. Jim Arkus on November 1, 2010 at 12:41

    I tried cleaning my toilet with Coca Cola one time. It didn’t work. I was kind of upset that that one wasn’t true either.

    • Richard Nikoley on November 1, 2010 at 12:51

      Oh, I remember that one.

      A bunch of family members sent that out years ago.

      My response was simple: Wow, if Coke is really that strong, imagine what you could do with stomach acid!

    • Keylogger Mac on March 18, 2011 at 00:31

      clean toilet with Coca Cola? I can’t believe it.

  4. rob on November 1, 2010 at 13:07

    So much for my plan to preserve a Big Mac for 52 years and then sell it on Ebay

    • Monica on November 1, 2010 at 13:50

      Actually, you can do that very easily if you put it up on the top of your fridge like Sally Davies is doing, rather than leaving it in the fridge. 🙂

  5. William in DC on November 1, 2010 at 13:58

    The one I’ve heard is that zero-calorie drinks are worse than sugar, cause weight gain, and cause diabetes (since “evidence shows artificial sweeteners raise insulin levels). Is that one right? I think if one avoids sugar bombs and grains and then eats real food for the most part, that’s half the battle. I admit I still occasionally have french fries and I drink zero calorie drinks sometimes. But most of the week, and most of the time I’m eating clean and whole. This is not an excuse to eat irresponsibly, but rather I think once you grasp a few of the larger principles, and adjust accordingly, at some point you’re reaching a point of diminishing returns in your quality of life vs. “eating healthy” balance.

    • Elysa on November 2, 2010 at 10:39


      The argument against zero calorie drinks is that the sweet taste still provokes an insulin reponse in some people, so your body starts acting like calories are on the way even though nothing is forthcoming. Nutritional science is still in it’s infancy, but I’m thinking that dicking with your hormones like that probably isn’t the best idea. I do use artifical sweetners (Splenda and Stevia, because I trust the Drs Eades), but only if there is actual food involved–no diet drinks. Am I still doing subclinical damage to my body? Could be. It’s the choice I’m making right now while I adjust to no grains.

      Drs Mike and Mary Dan Eades over at the Protein Power blog explain how insulin affects weight gain/loss in a very accessible way. Lots of knowledge on their site.

      If you want more in depth try Gary Taubes “Good Calories, Bad Calories.”

  6. Nathaniel on November 1, 2010 at 14:39

    Blasphemy! Next you’re going to be telling me that Twinkies don’t, in fact, last forever, and I’m going to have to rethink my bomb shelter!

    • Monica on November 1, 2010 at 16:08

      Nathaniel, you sound like my husband. 🙂 Hah. Seriously, though, I’d already considered adding Twinkies to the experiment: just haven’t had a chance yet.

  7. Lacey on November 1, 2010 at 14:51

    Remember when the cheese toast with the image of the Virgin Mary sold for $28,000 on eBay?

    Maybe I need to go back to eating bread again.

  8. Len on November 1, 2010 at 16:05

    The moisture content was my first thought when I saw all the stuff being forwarded around and people were acting all indignant, but I dared not bring that up to people when they’d waffle on about it – they all seemed to have a crazy gleam in their eyes, and I thought they might do something violent to me!

  9. Todd on November 1, 2010 at 16:35

    Wow. Mummified McDonalds. No big whoop. The ancients knew about mummification too. Just another corpse in the desert…

  10. Sue on November 1, 2010 at 20:34

    I got this in my email. Morgan Spurlock is looking kind of old – must be all that hair on his face!

  11. Belief | Feel Good Eating on November 2, 2010 at 04:23

    […] happy, healthy and active vegetarians that live well into old age. Richard Nikoley just had a great post in regards to keeping it real. We “know” that grains and legumes are NOT an optimal […]

  12. Paul C on November 2, 2010 at 06:25

    Before all of this McD food doesn’t rot news, we left for a 3 day weekend and my wife left her McD Fruit & Walnut Salad on the counter. When we returned on day 3, we were amazed to see the salad in perfect condition, even the crisp white apple slices. While that perhaps wasn’t a rotting issue after only 3 days, it was incredible to see how fresh it looked.

    I will have to agree with the moisture hypothesis. Moisture is sucked out of food so quickly in the air where I work, that one guy was making a mummified fruit collection, which never molded.

  13. anand srivastava on November 2, 2010 at 06:27

    They could be useful.
    Unfortunately I need glass bowl. I won’t heat things in plastic. I cook everything in ghee so it needs to be heated otherwise its all greasy.

    I am eating multiple things in lunch these days and need to carry multiple boxes. One for meat, one for cooked vegetables, one for fruit and salad, one for the dressing, and yes another one for the supplements as I am on the 16 hour everyday fast. So I need to take by supplement after the lunch. It is also my biggest meal of the day so I have so many things.

    So it could have been useful.

  14. michaelf on November 2, 2010 at 06:51

    Thanks for the reality check. Seems like sometimes this world gets the best of me.

  15. Elysa on November 2, 2010 at 10:14

    Let’s not forget that sugar is a preservative–hence “preserves.” Those fries, while dipped in sugar, still don’t have enough sugar or salt to actually preserve them. And she had to go out of her way to make them mold. Yet they don’t mold on their own here in Seattle, where an unheated house will start to decay almost immediately.

    In about 1975 my Dad put a McD’s pie (lemon, IIRC) in the glovebox of his bug. It stayed in perfect condition for 2-3 years, until my Stepmother made him throw it out. And I remember an informal “experiment” in junior high (1982 or so) wherein a classmate put the whipped topping off of his jello in a shoebox in his locker and kept it there for 8-9 months. Again, no change.

    These both happened in rainy Seattle, btw. The McD’s pie was subjected to a range of conditions, from damp, freezing, and heat from both the heater and the hot sun–we’ll say 30-90 degrees F. Was it simply the massive amounts of sugar? Probably partially–some people keep jam and jelly in the cupboard, even after opening. But I do believe there are preservatives and plasticizers in the baked goods and school “whipped topping,” because I don’t believe my Grandma’s homemade lemon meringue pie would have held up the same way, even with all the sugar.

    And, yes I know that anecdote does not constitute “data.” But many, many anecdotes apparently add up to “Observational Study.” ; )

    • Richard Nikoley on November 2, 2010 at 10:19

      “In about 1975 my Dad put a McD’s pie (lemon, IIRC) in the glovebox of his bug. It stayed in perfect condition for 2-3 years, until my Stepmother made him throw it out. And I remember an informal “experiment” in junior high (1982 or so) wherein a classmate put the whipped topping off of his jello in a shoebox in his locker and kept it there for 8-9 months. Again, no change.”

      The point is the same happens to conventional, homemade pies your granny made. I’ve seen it many times with all sorts of homemade pies. They simply dry out and after a couple of weeks of no decay and they are dried out it’s a safe bet they’ll stay that way indefinitely.

    • Monica on November 2, 2010 at 10:57

      Elysa, I don’t think you understand the experimental design. There are three water treatments for each food. Very high water activity is producing bacterial decay. Medium water activity is producing fungal decay. And leaving them out in open air is producing no decay. McDonald’s or not, doesn’t matter. The point is you need at least some water for molds to grow. And you need even more water for bacteria to grow.

      Now, I have no way of knowing what the actual water activity is because I don’t have the equipment to measure vapor pressure in the food items or in the surrounding air in their container. But clearly, the containers have different levels of water activity.

  16. Elysa on November 2, 2010 at 10:43

    Maybe…but what about the fact that the “whipped topping” stayed moist? Splain, Lucy.

    • Monica on November 2, 2010 at 11:02

      Honey doesn’t rot, either, staying moist in your cupboard for years. It has antibacterial enzymes, yes, but it also has very low water activity. Way too low for bacteria, and just under the threshhold for fungi, too.

      May I suggest that you go out and get some Cool Whip, put some in three different containers? One open to air, one closed with no water, and one with added water?

      • Monica on November 2, 2010 at 11:04

        You could also compare to homemade whipped cream with exactly the same sugar content per mass. All that requires is a kitchen scale, and looking on the back of the label to see how many grams of sugar are present per grams of product. Such an experiment would isolate the variable you think is responsible: that of “plasticizers and preservatives”. And you will have proved your point.

  17. Elysa on November 2, 2010 at 12:22

    This was school food circa 1982. Industrial food. Probably the same stuff fed to prisoners (same distributors.) I’m sure many, many, additives and preservatives have come and gone as just…oopsies, without the media hoopla surrounding Red Dye #whatever.

    I fully admit to bias against additives though. When I worked at Jenny Craig as a Program Director (the one who interviews you about your eating habits, ‘makes you cry so you buy’, and gives you your supposedly ‘customized’ program), I was introduced to a big thick binder that I was supposed to keep from customers if at all possible. The contents? A list of the many chemicals (used in the vernacular sense here) in Jenny Craig Cuisine, along with the known side effects. Truly a scary read. I was supposed to consult it in case of questions though, and if a customer or prospective customer wanted to see it I was supposed to hand it over because they’ve been in such trouble with the FTC.

    And because I can’t sell anything I’m not using myself I lived on the food anyway, gained 10lbs, and cranked up my migraines to a solid chronic level 10. Someday I might blog about it and post my horrendous carb-face pictures.

    Here’s a fun experiment…go to your local Jenny Craig and inquire about the program and ask to see the ingredient notebook. Don’t be mean, it’s a crappy job and most people get out as soon as possible. But see if you can get your hands on that book. If not, call your Attorney General and the FTC.

  18. Stancel on November 2, 2010 at 21:39

    I’m not so quick to defend McDonald’s on this one. I agree with the basic premise – mold requires moisture.

    But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that fast food probably uses lots of preservatives and additives. But such things are becoming ubiquitous in the food supply.

    I bought a bag of pumpkin seeds. The shells are white because they add titanium dioxide to keep them white. You can read it in the ingredients. A quick google of titanium dioxide reveals some unsavory potential health effects. If you actually soak the seeds the color comes off and turns the water white, if your hands are wet, the stuff will come off the seeds. It’s disgusting.

    • Monica on November 3, 2010 at 15:05

      I hear ya. There are definitely preservatives in the buns and the fries. Why there need to be preservatives in the fries is unclear to me.

      Still, if you look at the ingredients in a McD’s bun, the very same ingredients are there in the Market Pantry Target brand buns that I bought.

      I think that people are under the illusion that if they buy similar items from the grocery store that they are somehow healthier than if they just went and bought the burger at McD’s. That is just not true for the burgers.

      So, I hope this experiment might cause some people to think a little more critically about why food rotting is just not a very good indicator that it’s healthy to eat. Additionally, I hope the paleo community in particular and the foodie community in general will start railing against specific corporations less and on the general food production system as a whole. McDonald’s is junk food and there is no doubt about that. But so is 90% of what is sold in a grocery store and at other fast food chains. These items are NO better than McD’s.

  19. Bushrat on November 3, 2010 at 01:09

    In HS someone told me McDonald’s soft serve was made of pig fat. If only…

  20. Monica on November 3, 2010 at 15:15

    It’s important to note that there are no preservatives in the homemade fries, and the McD’s fries are rotting pretty much the same as homemade at this point. For all three water treatments.

    So, the preservatives don’t really keep the food from rotting. The only question that remains to be seen whether the fries and burgers will rot AS FAST as homemade.

    Of course, whether the preservatives are a health concern is another matter. It’s certainly a reasonable presumption, but those who claim that need to bring forth evidence for that particular claim. Not use this “McD’s doesn’t rot” nonsense to supposedly bolster their claim that McD’s is so full of preservatives (as opposed to….?) that microbes won’t touch it.

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