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An Inquiry into the Effects of Preservatives in McDonald's Food, or, What Does the Fungus Know That You Don't?

Everyone knows McDonald's food isn't healthy, but is it really any worse than other fast food? A friend of mine told me about an experiment Morgan Spurlock did for Supersize Me comparing McDonald's food to a place that made homemade burgers and fries. (The experiment wasn't in the movie but it's one of the DVD extras.) Spurlock let food from both places sit out for weeks in order to see see how McDonald's use of preservatives and other additives affected the way the food broke down.

I liked the idea but wanted to see what would happen if, instead of using gourmet stuff, I experimented with the local equivalent of McDonald's -- a cheap restaurant/take-out joint. So I went and bought burgers and fries from a nearby diner, New College Restaurant, and from McDonald's and compared the two.

As you can see here, the local place uses crinkle fries that come frozen, not unlike McDonald's. (I suspect the burger came frozen too, but, to be honest, I didn't ask.)

Next, I photographed each food item (see burgers | fries), put them all in a plastic bin, and placed the bin outside my apartment in the hallway. Then, I waited and observed. Here's what happened.

Day 3

Fries2

The crinkle fries from the local joint show signs of mold. Nothing on McDonald's.



2_2

The McDonald's burger has a pronounced white spot (some kind of growth) toward the bottom right. The local burger has several white areas and a thin white film coating sections of the burger. None of the spots on the local burger are quite as large as the one on McDonald's.

* * * * * * *

Day 5

3

Local burger is now encrusted with something resembling cold sores; fuzzy white areas of a slight greenish tint. The white spot on the McDonald's burger has grown considerably, but the burger otherwise weathers the storm.

Fries25

Thick green spores cap off the fuzzy coat on the crinkle fries. McDonald's remains unharmed. Unfortunately, after putting the fries back in the bin, I accidentally knocked over the tray that they were on so that the McDonald's fries fell on top of the local fries, contaminating them. (I didn't notice the mistake until.....)

* * * * * * *

Day 7

4_1

Local burger: pigeons wouldn't eat this. McDonald's has a .7" cluster cake on the top right region, and two small growths on the bottom section, but is otherwise clean.

Fries3

McDonald's fries now show signs of decay, though perhaps that is due to the fact that I found them laying on top of the crinkle fries and had to move them back to their own tray.

CONCLUSION

Are McDonald's products worse for you than other fast food? Anecdotal data suggests that McDonald's is less like food than its local equivalent and therefore the answer is "yes." (However, for people who tend to leave food unrefrigerated around the house for days, McDonald's may be an ideal choice.)

Incidentally, Morgan Spurlock used individual glass jars for his experiment and didn't identify any appreciable differences in burger decay. His McDonald's fries, however, remained unvarnished and fungus-free for weeks. Since I contaminated my fries, I can neither confirm nor refute Spurlock's findings. And I wasn't going to repeat the test and risk pissing off my landlord, what with the stench and all. You?

- - -

ALSO FROM STAY FREE!
The Freaky Universe of McDonald's Advertising
Flavor Makers: Ex-Food Factory Workers Discuss the Mysteries of Flavor Science

Posted by carrie on 06/10/2005 | Permalink

Comments

Back in the mid-70's, a very unkempt friend of my roommate spent a couple of weeks crashing on our sofa. Two months later, we found a McDonald's hamburger bun behind the sofa, and it was still soft.

Posted by: Bruce | Jun 10, 2005 11:15:55 AM

I'm going to puke.

Posted by: sje | Jun 10, 2005 12:48:14 PM

I think that probably says more for the qualities of the preservatives Mcdonalds is probably required to use, and the relative moisture contents of the two items, than whether or not either is 'better' for you. If it dries out quickly, it's going to decay more slowly.

Having once spilled mcdonalds fries in my old car and not discovering them under the seat for many months, I can confirm they just dry out and do not get moldy at all.

Using glass jars as the other experimenter was noted to do would trap the moisture, so both items would presumably decay at a similar rate.

Posted by: JC | Jun 10, 2005 12:49:19 PM

Back in the 80's, a McDonald's milkshake was left in the rear seat of the car while we went on an eight-day canoe trip. When we returned it was STILL COLD!

Posted by: Tinfoil Hat | Jun 10, 2005 12:55:49 PM

It took me a long time, but a few years ago I finally decided not to eat at McDonalds anymore. This may have something to do with your experiment - I've found that one big mac doesn't satisfy, I leave the place hungry (whether I've had fries or not) - but if I get two big macs I get sick when I'm half way through the second burger - and somehow the second one always tastes like fried cardboard.

I love burgers and go to the joint in town often!

Posted by: Chris Ritke | Jun 10, 2005 1:10:34 PM

As much as I dislike McDonald's food, there is another explantion.

If the McDonald's food was not contaminated with any mold when you purchased it it wouldn't grow mold until a mold spore happen to land on the fries.

In other words, it could mean that the McDonald's kitchen was cleaner than the Diner's.

Posted by: srg | Jun 10, 2005 1:23:46 PM

Its probably due to the fact that McDonalds food is irradiated...

Posted by: Kevin Burton | Jun 10, 2005 1:35:36 PM

I've also sworn off McDonalds since I got food poisoning from a Sausage-Egg-Biscuit sandwich from a San Diego Hospital McDonald's. I was a captive customer for several days while my daughter was a patient, and almost became a patient myself.

Though not scientific, this indicates that although fungi doesn't like McDonalds food, E-Coli finds it quite tasty.

Posted by: dgjiv | Jun 10, 2005 1:43:17 PM

I don't buy the "McDonald's kitchen is cleaner" argument; there are mold spores wafting through the air around us all the time.

Posted by: jaykayess | Jun 10, 2005 2:09:14 PM

Wow, this is really gross. What's worse is that people actually eat mcdonald's and further contaminate the planet by digesting and excreting it back into the common water system.

Posted by: ania | Jun 10, 2005 2:11:24 PM

Incorrect. Your body would act as a filter for all of the impurities. Thats why urine is sterile.

Posted by: Tyler | Jun 10, 2005 2:48:24 PM

This has no relevance to Stay Free, but thank you for reminding me of one of the grosser experiments on the web, the StinkyMeat project.

http://www.stinkymeat.net/


Posted by: randee | Jun 10, 2005 2:58:11 PM

What's sad is that even though this is one of the most disgusting things I've seen...now I want a Micky D's cheeseburger.

Posted by: Max Roswell | Jun 10, 2005 4:19:03 PM

As I mentioned above, the same thing happened with the fries when Spurlock did this; he had everything seperated in glass jars, and he watched the fries for WEEKS.

Posted by: Carrie McLaren | Jun 10, 2005 4:57:37 PM

not to be an antfucker as we say here in holland, but urine is as insterile as anything...it contains all the toxics etc that need to be removed from your body (right? or i really didnt pay enough attention @ biology class, but im pretty sure im right)

Posted by: santa | Jun 10, 2005 6:02:10 PM

Santa -
While urine contains toxins and waste products from your bloodstream, it also contains a sizable amount of ammonia. Ammonia, as you may know, kills bacteria, and is the primary sterilizing ingredient in urine.

This is, of course, why you can urinate on a wound to disinfect it, if no other cleaning solution is available.

Posted by: R2 | Jun 10, 2005 7:32:29 PM

'Antfucker'? What an image! :D We are saying 'currant-shit[t]er' in Germany. Not being a nitpicker, anyway: 'Sterile' doesn't mean healthy (or in-toxic); it's just free of bacterias.
Interesting story!

Posted by: Martin | Jun 10, 2005 7:36:02 PM

Santa, urine is sterile, that is free of bacteria. Sterile doesn't mean non-toxic. Rubbing alcohol sterilizes, but is highly toxic. Dan Savage answered a question about this and pointed out that the orifice the urine comes out of is not sterile, even if the urine is.

Posted by: Mark | Jun 10, 2005 7:36:40 PM

I'm all for fewer McDonalds, but let's be fair...what was the make up of the diner and McD's fries? Were they both salted? Were they the same thickeness? Did they use the same oil? What was the moisture content? Thus far, all this looks like to me is theatre, rather than a Gotcha! moment in dietary reasoning.

Posted by: M. | Jun 11, 2005 5:04:07 PM

Hmmm.. I dunno what to conclude from this. McDonalds doesn't have to be bad (as in poisonius or represent a major or minor health risk) in itself, but street food always TASTE better^^
c'mon, who wants dry skinny 'Donalds shit when you can pay less and twice as much filling food. well, that is at least for Norway (where I'm from) where a BigMac menu cost you
12,93 USD. Believe that? Another reason I can resist McDonalds;P

Posted by: e. | Jun 11, 2005 5:08:34 PM

why the f*** did my info get replaced with M. @ http://www.howitplaysout.blogspot.com/????
hehe

Posted by: e. | Jun 11, 2005 5:10:29 PM

Erik - As far as I am concerned, you can forget the comparison and focus on the fact that there was no mold on the fries AT ALL after five days - while trapped in a container with food that was rapidly putrifying.

Posted by: Charles Star | Jun 12, 2005 2:47:48 AM

Time to repeat this experiment under controlled conditions. Take two burgers, put them in sterie containers, sterilize them by irradiation, inocculate them with a known amount of spores, and monitor growth. Of course, humidity and temperature need to be equal in both containers.

Posted by: 666 | Jun 13, 2005 8:20:38 AM

Até os vermes sabem que a comida do mac Donalds é prejudicial à saúde...

Posted by: arkhanjo | Jun 13, 2005 8:35:10 AM

Lo que pasa es que no se puede podrir lo que ya es podrido!!!
Si eso es basura desde el principio al fin!!!
Coma verdura!!!

Posted by: Teodoro | Jun 13, 2005 9:26:44 AM

Stelletje prutsers.....

Posted by: dennis | Jun 13, 2005 9:41:01 AM

putz! deu a maior fome, vou pedir um big mac pela internet agora! delícia!

Posted by: urgh | Jun 13, 2005 11:01:56 AM

Unfortunately all McDonalds products seem to contain inordinate (and unhealthy) amounts on Sodium Chloride, as this is one of the best preservatives known I am not surprised at the results. I think their products have a significantly greater physiological than mycological impact.

Posted by: Hugh Edwards | Jun 13, 2005 1:50:16 PM

PORRA TOMARA Q O MC DONALDS VÁ A FALENCIA, AKELES AMERICANUS FILHOS DA PUTA Q KEREM GLOBALIZA O MUNDO, ELES Q SE FODAM COM OS HAMBURGUERES GORDURENTOS E PODRES DELES E Q ENFIEM O PAO NO CÚ!
EU PREFIRO HAMBURGUER D SOJA! NAO TEM COLESTEROL E NAO TEM CONSERVANTE!
VAI SE FUDE CAMBADA DE VAGABUNDO!

Posted by: Giuzinha | Jun 13, 2005 7:19:47 PM

I HATE MC DONALDS!
FUCK OFF!

Posted by: Eu d novo -- me again | Jun 13, 2005 7:25:49 PM

WHO CARES? MC DONALD'S MEAT LOOKED BETTER THAN THAT WORMY BURGER. THEIR FRIES LOOKED BETTER TOO. IT TASTES GOOD WHEN YOU'RE HUNGRY AND IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT...JUST DON'T EAT IT! THE STUFF THAT PRESERVES IT JUST MIGHT BE PRESERVING YOU TOO. ANYWAY, WHO'S GOT TIME FOR THESE NASTY EXPERIMENTS AND WHAT'S THE POINT? IF A PERSON WANTS TO DO SOMETHING...THEY'LL DO IT EVEN IF IT KILLS THEM! SMOKING, UNHEALTHY FOOD, SEX, DANGEROUS SPORTS, CHEATING ON A LOVER, A BAD ATTITUDE! LET'S FACE IT "LIVING IS HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH!"

Posted by: oohboy! | Jun 13, 2005 8:53:01 PM

OK, SO IM DOING THIS AS A SCIENCE EXPERIMENT WIT MY FRENDS RITE AND THE MCDONALDS FRIES THAT WE BOUGHT HAVE STARTED TO SHOW WHITE MOULD! (WE'VE BEEN KEEPING THEM IN A JAR WITH A PLATE ONTOP) THIS MEANS THAT THEY ARE CAPABLE OF GROWING THE STUFF AND WE'VE ONLY HAD THEM FOR A WEEK...HOWEVER STILL LOOK PRETTY GUD EH

Posted by: Bebop_05 | Jun 14, 2005 3:12:15 AM

CAPS KICKS ASS
not....

Eu d novo, who said sex is unhealthy?

Posted by: K | Jun 14, 2005 5:39:19 AM

I mean, ohhboy!

Posted by: K | Jun 14, 2005 5:40:09 AM

АХУЕТЬ !!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: DIMA | Jun 14, 2005 5:47:49 AM

ЭТО ПИЗДЕЦ

Posted by: PIZDETS | Jun 14, 2005 6:33:03 AM

а памойму дрянь эти бургеры шо макдональдс шо любой другой и картошка фри гоффно лутше воттку бухать понемношку чем такую гадость в себя пихать буээээ

Posted by: Против | Jun 14, 2005 6:40:53 AM

Fuck Fast-Food!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Grave | Jun 14, 2005 8:14:52 AM

I tried but i did not like it....

Posted by: Fuck Fastfood | Jun 14, 2005 9:53:17 AM

I HATE MACDONALDS!!!

Posted by: Johan | Jun 14, 2005 11:13:37 AM

me like mcdonalds...

Posted by: Thum | Jun 14, 2005 2:44:56 PM

It's so unfair that young folks never had the chance to experience what real, untainted, unchemicalized, unadulterated food is like.
Simple natural food (which is the only thing humanity has ever eaten until Century 20) is fresh. There used to be a saying that went "Food is Life". Food must be alive to be food, and must be eaten as soon as possible after picking or butchering meat. When fresh it is still alive & packed with enzymes and all the living stuff you need to feed your body. Most of all though, it tastes so profoundly good, intense and juicy, rich sweet flavors that, well, you'll never have a chance to know.

You don't apparently know the rate that fresh foods are supposed to spoil. Fresh foods spoil very quickly. Natural cut potatoes would be in advanced stages of decomposition in 2 weeks; but inedible in only 2-4 days. Fruit and veggies begin decomposing inside a week (rule of thumb). Fresh bread lasts 2 days, mold starts right away. Dairy (milk) 1 day. Refrigeration slows what you call spoilage (a nice way of saying a living thing decomposing), and humans have employed various cool storage techniques since forever.

Industrialized foods have almost literally no food value or taste, and only make you think they taste good because they are all drenched in MSG (which is not only addictive but actually *causes* weight gain). So for today's humans, actual food is a thing of the past. You would find it incredibly difficult to find anything that, well frankly, isn't slow death if it's been processed. Seeing those pictures of the McDonalds 'food' defying decomp reminds me of seeing things floating in formaldehyde filled jars. You wouldn't consider anything like that to be 'fresh', would you? Much less eat it. But if it is chemically manipulated to look good, you'll eat it, even though it's soaked to the core with any of the 800 chemicals you now ingest daily, and who knows how old it is. It's not your fault though, by any means. What choice do you have?

With so much health crisis in a time of supposed state of the art medicine, people are dropping dead with clogged arteries and diabetes in tens of thousands. This new obesity epidemic is really odd considering most people are constantly on a diet. You are indeed what you eat.
The lab created fake fats are a terrible thing to do to people who trust their food will be wholesome. Those will make you get seriously ill. There is so much deception now from the people who want your money, that you don't have more than a lingering feeling that something's not right, because the proof you need is strangely unavailable, and acceptance is so much easier.
If I could have one wish it would be that you would develop a critical eye and a rebellious unwillingness to submissively accept the way things are in this bizarre corporatized modern world. They will never tell you the truth, to do so would affect their only true love - profit. You deserve the best world that can possibly be, and you were ripped off.
If anyone would like to contact me to shoot the breeze I welcome the chance to be of any help to you I can. trustpeace[at]earthlink.net

Posted by: trustpeace | Jun 14, 2005 8:37:04 PM

I hate all fast foods,especially Micky Dees

Posted by: wendy | Jun 14, 2005 11:17:09 PM

not to be gross, but one other way of finding chemical content in a McDonnalds burger is to simply let it get cold, put it in the fridge, and then take a bite.

you will notice that there is no taste, but a weird warm burger after taste, which is provided by the chemicals that they use to give it flavor. try it sometime, it's an eye opener.

Posted by: forkyou | Jun 15, 2005 12:36:24 AM

This may not be the place for it, but there are several points in trustpeace's comment which show an incomplete understanding.

First, chemical additives have been used in foods for millenia. It didn't start in the 20th century. Salt preservation, which reduces moisture and increases the pH level, is a chemical additive which dramatically extends the edible life of food.

Maybe salt is not enough of a chemical for you? How about potassium Nitrate, KNO3, which has been used since the middle-ages? If you eat corned-beef, you are eating meat preserved with potassium nitrate.

Then there are the dozens of additives put in food for health reasons, many breads are fortified with vitamins and minerals. What does fortified mean? It's an additive. Iodinized table salt provides all the iodine necessary for your body to function properly. A lack of iodine can cause goiter, how many people with goiter have you seen around recently? Most bread contains niacin, which helps prevent pellagra. Most additives, with the possible exception of the artificial flavours and colours, are beneficial either directly for human health or indirectly by extending the useful life of food.

Again, if you think that meat should be eaten as soon as it is slaughtered, you are in error. Beef is best when it ages for between 10 days and 3 weeks at between 1 and 3 degrees Centigrade. Lamb is best with about a week of aging. The aging process breaks down the stong muscle fibers and makes the meat far more tender. A tender steak is an aged steak.

As for the experiment described above. There are really too many variables to be certain what occurred. It may well be, as suggested in one of the comments, that the pH of the McDonald's fries is different. This would dramatically affect the rate of fungus growth. But there are other possibilities. My suggestion, is that reasturant fries are usually shipped frozen and pre-cooked. The only thing the reasturant does is place them in a deep-fat frier to sear the outside. The longer the fries sit in the frier, the more moisture is driven from the cells in the fries. The less moisture in the fry, or in the surface layer of cells of the fry, the less susceptibe that fry is to bacteria and mold.

Do I eat at McDonalds? Not usually. I love to cook my own food. But in order to be a better cook, I have studied what happens to food as it is prepared and cooked. One thing I have learned is that while you may decline to patronize fast food for ethical, political or taste reasons, you shouldn't worry about it for health reasons.

Cheers,

-Flex

Posted by: Flex | Jun 15, 2005 8:49:19 AM

Flex said;

"you shouldn't worry about it for health reasons."


That would be great if it weren't so bad for you.

Posted by: forkyou | Jun 15, 2005 6:38:57 PM

It was surprised.
Anger is remembered when thinking that these kind of things had been offered up to
now as food. Do you sue it?

Posted by: mura0 | Jun 16, 2005 12:04:18 AM

Mindeni az Mc-akarja fikázni:(((((
Be kéne látni......ami jo az jo!!!!!

Posted by: Böki | Jun 16, 2005 4:39:50 AM

A lényeg hogy finom a meki kaja, ha a szar finom lenne lehet azt is megennénk...

Posted by: Lez | Jun 16, 2005 11:31:52 AM

What the hell...
If you eat lots of preservative you´ll live longer!
Don´t you stupids understand that McDaddy is worried about us?

Posted by: Dick | Jun 16, 2005 10:21:27 PM

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