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Does Fast Food Rot?

May 1, 2010

A little while ago there was quite the hubbub over a one year old Happy Meal.  I was very annoyed by the tremendously non-scientific ,methods involved that led people to the conclusion that McDonald’s food was so bad for you that flies and microbes wouldn’t touch it.  To be clear, it isn’t that I am sure that McDonald’s food isn’t rot proof, just that by drying out a single, condiment free burger in an arid climate, you really haven’t proven anything.  I did write quite a bit about this here.

I also commented about it on a bunch of sites around the internet, most specifically this one-treehugger.  I like the treehugger website, but I have to admit that  I was shocked to see that their retread of that story already has 135 comments.  That is about 133 more than my average.  This is a passionate crowd.  I got in to a bit of a discussion with a person named ‘Ed’ and I ended up suggesting that:

Actually Ed, I would have to say that dry food doesn’t mold. I could leave my beef jerky out on my counter in Vancouver forever and it won’t mold, it will just get rock hard. Most people are missing the moisture point. Bread goes moldy because we leave it in that bag with its existing moisture content (bread is quite moist when baked), but if you take it out of the bag it gets hard and is perfect for breadcrumbs which can be stored indefinitely in your cupboard.
Tell you what, if anyone is interested, I will get a regular burger from McDonalds, one from Burger King and a home grilled organic burger patty on a commercial bun with condiments, etc and let the 3 of them rot together in a mini greenhouse with a wet sponge in there to keep the moisture level up. If one or more of them is immune to rot, we will see.
What do you expect to see? What would prove to you that their food is not a toxic waste dump?

I was quite pleased with my moldy bread/bread crumb observation by the way.  So, today I set out to begin what is a more scientific procedure, complete with Organic control burger.  So, without further ado, let the experiment begin (if you want to skip to the conclusion of this experiment, the results are at the bottom).

Study: Are Fast Food Burgers Immune to Bacteria, Microbes and Rot?

Aim: To determine if processed food is able to rot.

Equipment:  1 cheeseburger from McDonald’s, 1 cheeseburger from Burger King, 1 homemade organic beef cheeseburger, 1 small greenhouse, 1 sponge, 1 tomato.  The cheeseburger has been chosen because McDonald’s and Burger King have fairly comparable cheeseburgers and I wanted to keep the burger the same across the board.


  1. At approximately 4:06 on May 1st, I entered the Burger King on Hastings, just off of Renfrew and ordered a cheeseburger (I also ordered an Angry Whopper because I couldn’t resist myself…  You can read more about that here-to be added later, not here because it has literally nothing to do with the experiment).
  2. Because the North Van Burger King is no more, I had to drive quite a ways to get the next burger, the McDonald’s cheeseburger, which was acquired at 4:36 at the Park Royal McDonalds.
  3. Who would have thought that buying the greenhouse was going to stump me.  I went into the Home Depot to grab one of the greenhouses that they had by the thousands a few weeks ago and… well, they don’t have them anymore.  I guess the little greenhouses are for starter seeds and it is well into spring now so you don’t need them, but that didn’t dawn on me when I started this experiment.  I didn’t get the burgers home until 4:55.
  4. I put both the burgers in the McDonalds bag and put that bag in a Ziploc bag, hoping to seal in any moisture that was left in the burgers.  
  5. Then it was off to search for a greenhouse at the neighborhood plant store, and pick up some fresh buns for the organic beef cheeseburger.
  6. Purchased a greenhouse and picked up the buns at 5:58, along with 2 organic tomatoes.
  7. Got home and got out the organic beef and made small patties of various sizes to try to simulate the size of a commercial cheeseburger.  I lightly salted and peppered the patties.  
  8. Then put them in a preheated grilling machine for 7 minutes.
  9. I then prepared the condiments: Diced onions (note the Burger King cheeseburger does not have onions, but the McDonalds one does), sliced pickles (I went with Bick’s Baby Dills-garlic flavor), ketchup (Heinz), and mustard (French’s).  I had forgotten to get processed cheese and we don’t keep it in our house, so I cut a few slices off a a cracker barrel cheese we had in the fridge.
  10. I made up 2 burgers so I could choose the one that was most like the other 2.
  11. I weighed the Burger King burger (115 grams), the McDonald’s burger (110) and chose my 105 gram cheeseburger to join theirs in the greenhouse.
  12. I placed the burgers, a slice off of a Scotch Brite Sponge and a tomato in the greenhouse.
  13. I have placed the greenhouse in the window where it will hopefully stay.  I will take the lid off at night to expose the contents to general bacteria in the air (and if I get lucky, the odd fly).  I will put the lid on again when I wake up in the morning.  I will keep the sponge wet and try to keep a humid environment in the greenhouse.

Discussion (so far):

I chose the organic tomato as the gold standard of a healthy rot control.  We know the tomato will rot if there is any bacteria around, and it is organic so it should have some bacteria with it.  This will let us know how much longer the burgers are taking and it will expose the burgers to bacteria.  It is important that the burgers are exposed to bacteria because the argument everyone is putting forward is that fast food burgers won’t rot, not that they are cooked so well, they don’t come with any bacteria (which would be a good thing for any food, except yogurt).

I have made a few mistakes right out of the gate.  The most glaring one is that I didn’t have any processed cheese.  I have never seen processed cheese rot.  It just turns a darker orange and gets tough.  Real cheddar cheese on the other hand is essentially a block of bacteria.  I probably should have just skipped the cheese, as I am sure that the rot is going to start there in the organic meat burger.  I also should have had the greenhouse with me and put the burgers in as I got them.  They lost a lot of heat and moisture just getting home.  Finally, the Scotch Brite sponge is apparently anti-microbial.  It appears that it doesn’t grow microbes, but it also doesn’t appear to spread that quality (ie make surfaces it touches antiseptic), so I am not too worried about it being in there.  Initially I wanted to use a used kitchen sponge so that there would be plenty of bacteria present, but my wife bleaches the hell out of everything and I couldn’t take a chance on putting bleach into the greenhouse.  I will look for a regular sponge (if they still make them) and swap out the Scotch Brite one as soon as I can.  Another mistake I made was to put the condiments on the wrong side of the bun.  I put them on the non-cheese side.  This isn’t done in the industry.

I will try to post each day about how this is going.  I think it is going to start slow.  I will take 2 photos a day, one in the morning and one at night.

On a good note, I set the burger that didn’t quite compare aside.  My wife saw it and asked if it was okay to eat.  It was of course-just because it is part of a science experiment that shouldn’t make it unappetizing….right?  She ate it and loved it.  She said it tasted just like a McDonald’s Cheeseburger!  Yes, I have done it, I have made the McDonald’s cheeseburger at home.  It was the impossible task, until now…  Who knew the secret ingredient was organic beef…

Any thoughts about the process so far?  Questions?  Comments?  Leave them below.  I have to say though, science is boring…  The experiment was fine and all and waiting for rotting is fun, but writing it up still sucks as much as it did in high school….

Results (links added as results became available):

Day 1: Safely tucked in…

Day 2: Already impatient…

Day 3:  We have condensation…

Day 4: The nose knows…

Day 5: Houston, we have mold!

Day 7: Oh, it’s on!!

Day 8: The onset of ‘foam’ mold.

Day 9: Burger King is a little surprising.

Day 10: Burgers and Dandelions…

Days 11 & 12: Conclusion!

More rot 1 and 2



16 Comments leave one →
  1. Nicole Ferreira permalink
    May 2, 2010 4:26 pm

    Cool idea! I can’t wait to see the results!

    By the way – love your “science is boring” line. Made me chuckle. 🙂

  2. October 28, 2010 10:25 am

    due to the busy schedules from work, most people would just prefer to eat on fastfoods ‘,

  3. January 3, 2011 3:10 pm

    The days of the fast food resturants with their questionable food menus here in the 21st century are and should be number. For the health food consoius Americans are wanting more for their money than clogged arteries and potential heart atacts while eating McDoanald s food in taking the family out to dinner. If there is any major fast food resturant change that has the means to give the American People what thay want and need it is sure McDoanlds even if they have to revamp their entire menu,. The truth is if there was a place where i could go to eat and know i would be eating good healthy food to help me feel good and stay young and mentaly aleart it would be McDonalds for sure that’s if they would change to more healthy food. But i’m sorry to say no matter which number i look at on their viewing menu, i wine up ordering a salad and a glass of water only. Then again as Americans how much do we know about good healthy nutrition.?

  4. Missy permalink
    February 6, 2011 7:16 pm

    I’m doing a science experiment where I got a McDonald’s burger, a In-N-Out burger, a Burger King burger, and a homemade burger and I put them on separate plates and covered the plates with Press and seal to keep in the moister. I observed them for 21 days and all of them molded except McDonald’s.

  5. May 2, 2013 9:39 pm

    Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point.
    You obviously know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to
    your weblog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

  6. May 7, 2013 5:29 pm

    First of all I would like to say superb blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.

    I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your head prior to writing.
    I’ve had difficulty clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out. I truly do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints? Cheers!

  7. apohl permalink
    October 4, 2014 4:13 pm

    i would like to know how u measured the rate of decomposition


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