Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The real reason McBurgers don't rot

You just have to love the internet. For all the empowerment it has provided to so many people around the world, it has also allowed dumbness to spread with astounding speed and breadth.

Rarely does this dumbness rear its head so boldly as when it comes to food. A little while ago, there was a photo going around the internet of a nasty-looking pink paste. The stuff was "mechanically separated meat" that apparently comprises all of the fast-food chicken we eat. Many people were revolted and swore off eating chicken, which prompted some actual investigation. It  the mechanically separated stuff has not actually been used for quite some time, and it is in fact illegal - so people were seriously over-reacting.

Another one of these false panics has been going around for the past few weeks, inspired by artist Sally Davies. She decided to physically document the decay of a McDonald's hamburger in a stunt similar to one performed by Morgan Spurlock on the DVD version of Super Size Me. As her photos show, the McBurger simply refuses to rot.

Fast food haters took this to mean one thing: McDonald's burgers are so full of chemicals and preservatives that they are not actually real food and therefore immune to natural decomposition. Ick, eww, gross... McDonald's is disgusting, right?

Nope, and actual science has the real answer. The folks over at Serious Eats performed their own experiments and they found that "there's nothing that strange about a McDonald's hamburger not rotting. Any burger of the same shape will act the same way."

Indeed, the experimenters came at the situation with proper scientific method and introduced controls. The most telling one was that they created their own burger with 100% real ground beef, with no additives. That burger, like it's McDonald's equivalent, didn't rot at all either.

The reason? Because both burgers are small, they lose their moisture quickly. Moisture, of course, is the chief instigator of mold. Ergo, if they burger doesn't have moisture, it won't rot.

They also performed similar experiments on the larger Quarter Pounder and found that it actually does rot. The larger burger means it keeps moisture longer, which means that mold gets a chance to grow. This happened with the McDonald's Quarter Pounder and the home-made one.

Strangely, none of the fast-food haters out there thought to perform a similar experiment or to apply actual science to any of this. And, I suspect, the actual results are not likely to result in the same sort of viral internet phenomenon as the artist's initial "experiment."


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