What Happens to Your Body When You Eat a McDonald’s Hamburger?

mcdonalds burger

Story at-a-glance -

  • McDonald’s sells 75 hamburgers every second, amounting to over 2.36 billion burgers per year — roughly the equivalent of eating a million cows
  • However, there have been disturbing reports of McDonald’s hamburgers that do not decompose or rot for weeks, months or even years after they’ve been cooked
  • In March 2015, McDonald’s announced that they would only be buying chicken raised without antibiotics important to human medicine. However, they still do not have plans to make any changes to their meat, which come from factory farms or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)
  • Just like its hamburgers, McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets and McRib pork sandwiches also came under fire because of their questionable ingredients; McDonald’s fries sold in American stores were also found to contain toxic ingredients

By Dr. Mercola

When talking about fast food giants, nothing can be bigger — and more infamous — than McDonald's. The "golden arches" are so abundant and so well-known all over the world, that some toddlers can even recognize them even before they are able to speak full sentences.

In 2014, over 36,258 McDonald's restaurants operate worldwide,1 serving over 69 million people every day. From its humble beginnings in the 1940s, the brand has now grown to be a multibillion-dollar company with an estimated value of over $85 billion.

And the fast food's most popular menu item? The burgers. According to The Fiscal Times, McDonald's sells 75 burgers every second.2 That amounts to over 2.36 billion burgers per year — roughly the equivalent of eating a million cows!3

For many people, nothing seems wrong with eating a McDonald's hamburger. After all, it looks and tastes the same as other burger patties, and the added convenience makes it a much sought-after meal for busy people, those who are on-the-go or those who simply do not have time to cook food at home.

But considering just how many burger patties are sold per day, haven't you ever wondered just how McDonald's hamburgers are made and, more importantly, what they're made of?

Even more disturbing are the reports of McDonald's burgers that do not decompose or rot for weeks, months or even years after they've been cooked.

McDonald's Hamburger Shows No Signs of Decomposition — Even After a Decade

There have been multiple stories going viral about McDonald's hamburgers that show no signs of rotting or molding. One example is that of David Whipple, a man from Utah, who came forward in 2013, claiming that he had a McDonald's hamburger that dated back to 1999, but had yet to show any sign of decomposition.4

According to an article in Business Insider, Whipple initially bought the burger to keep for a month and show to his friends, but then forgot about it. Two years later, he found it in his truck, with the original receipt, with no signs of rotting or mold. He decided to keep it to see how long it will disintegrate. Whipple shared his experience in a Daily Mail article:5

“I was showing some people how enzymes work and I thought a hamburger would be a good idea. And I used it for a month and then I forgot about it.

It ended up in a paper sack in the original sack with the receipt in my coat pocket tossed in the back of my truck and it sat there for, I don't know, two or three months.”

Whipple was invited to guest on the TV show The Doctors to talk about his experience.6 He said he uses the burger to encourage his grandkids to eat healthy and avoid fast food.

I've featured stories about these "everlasting McDonald's burgers" on my site many years ago, like that of Manhattan artist Sally Davies' "The Happy Meal Project," where she photographed a McDonald's Happy Meal every day for six months (You can view the full photostream7 on her website). Karen Hanrahan, a wellness educator and nutrition consultant who owns the blog Best of Mother Earth, also claimed to have kept a McDonald's hamburger since 1996.8

A Closer Look at a McDonald's Hamburger Ingredients

According to McDonald's website,9 the only ingredient in its hamburger is “100 percent real beef patties seasoned with just a pinch of salt and pepper.” The fast food chain also refutes speculations that an "unknown" preservative is among their McDonald's hamburger ingredients, and says that their burgers and buns do not decompose simply because they "become very dry in the cooking and toasting process." According to a Business Insider article:10

"[T]he patty loses water in the form of steam during the cooking process. The bun, of course, is made out of bread. Toasting it reduces the amount of moisture. This means that after preparation, the hamburger is fairly dry.

When left out open in the room, there is further water loss as the humidity within most buildings is around 40 percent. So in the absence of moisture or high humidity, the hamburger simply dries out, rather than rot."

Indeed, part of the embalmed-like feature of the meat patty can be because of its high-sodium content. Salt is a natural preservative that has been used throughout history. But you have to admit that when something does not decompose, or even show signs of decomposing after days, months or years, it seems very, very suspicious. After all, the hallmark of live food is that it wilts and decomposes — something that, apparently, does not occur in these burgers.

In 2014, McDonald's attempted to clear its name by releasing a video,11 which starred former MythBusters co-host Grant Imahara and filmed in a Cargill facility in Fresno, California, that shows just how McDonald's hamburger patties are made.12 It aims to debunk the myth that McDonald's uses fillers, additives and preservatives in their meat — showing instead large beef chunks on a conveyor belt going through a machine that forms them into patties.

They also asserted that they no longer use pink slime in their meat. Pink slime is a sludge-like ingredient made of ground-up beef "trimmings" — various beef scraps and cow connective tissues – and ammonium hydroxide, which gives the mixture its pink hue. McDonald's has admitted to using pink slime in their hamburgers before, but had discontinued it in 2011.13

McDonald's Plans to Make the 'Big Switch' to Antibiotic-Free Chicken

In March 2015, McDonald's announced that they would only be buying chicken raised without antibiotics important to human medicine — a change that would take place in over the next two years. They also claimed that they would begin using milk from cows that have not been treated with the artificial growth hormone rBST.14

While this is positive news, I believe that McDonald's only made the decision to help improve their slumping U.S. sales. Many restaurants like Panera Bread, Chipotle and Shake Shack have already switched to antibiotic-free poultry and meat, causing their former customers to flock to these competitors.

This change means that not only will suppliers be scrambling to meet the demand, but other fast food chains will also be considering a similar move. But although going antibiotic-free on their poultry is a step in the right direction, I don't think we should be celebrating any time soon, because McDonald's has yet to make any changes to its meat — which is actually loaded with a whole host of other problems.

McDonald's Beef Comes From Factory Farms

Even if it is true that McDonald's burgers do not contain preservatives or additives (which I seriously doubt), this does not excuse the fact that McDonald's meat actually comes from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Not only are cows and other livestock in these factory farms made to live in unsanitary and inhumane conditions, but they are also given antibiotics and growth hormones to make them grow faster and become more resistant to disease. In fact, an article published in Scientific American states that nearly 25 million pounds of antibiotics are administered to livestock in the U.S. every year.15

These antibiotics, along with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, are transferred to you every time you eat CAFO meat — and sometimes even through the animal manure used as crop fertilizer. Two million Americans become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year, causing at least 23,000 deaths.16

What's worse, antibiotic-resistant disease is not the only danger brought on by CAFOs. Excessive exposure to antibiotics and regularly eating antibiotic-laced CAFO meats also harms your gastrointestinal health, predisposing you to virtually any disease.

Watch Out for These McDonald's Menu Items, Too

Just like its hamburgers, McDonald's Chicken McNuggets also came under fire after it was found that only 50 percent of the nuggets’ content is actually chicken.17 The other 50 percent is a mixture of corn derivatives, leavening agents, sugars and completely synthetic ingredients that no sane person would ever think of cooking with.

Its seasonal offering, the McRib pork sandwich, was also closely scrutinized. Apparently, one of its ingredients is azodicarbonamide,18 a chemical used to bleach the flour bread, but is also used in making gym shoes and yoga mats. And underneath the "tasty, tangy barbecue sauce," the researchers found that the pork was nothing more than restructured meat product — made from all the cheap innards and cast-offs of a pig.19 Not so appetizing anymore, is it?

Even their fries, particularly those sold in the U.S., were also found to contain toxic ingredients. While French fries in the U.K. only are simply potatoes fried in sunflower or rapeseed oil, the fries that Americans get contain TBHQ, antifoaming agents, color stabilizers and preservatives. They also contain beef flavor that's made with wheat and milk derivatives. This is why they carry an allergy warning for those with wheat and dairy sensitivities.20

What Happens When You Eat an All-McDonald's Diet?

You've probably heard of "Super Size Me," a documentary where filmmaker Morgan Spurlock illustrated the consequences of eating a strict McDonald's diet. After just four weeks of eating nothing but fast food, Spurlock's health had badly deteriorated to the point that his physician warned him to stop the experiment or he'd be putting his life in grave danger.

Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College, London, also wanted to learn what happens to your gut if you ate only McDonald's for 10 straight days. His son, Tom, agreed to do the experiment and sent stool samples to different labs throughout the 10-day period.

The results were astounding. After just 10 days of eating fast food, his stool samples revealed that his gut microbes were "devastated" — about 40 percent of his bacteria species, amounting to over 1,400 different types, were lost. This severe loss of microbial diversity is a risk factor to obesity and diabetes.21,22

Your gut is your second brain, and it is actually where 80 percent of your immune system lies. There are nearly 100 trillion bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microorganisms, good and bad, that compose your body's microflora. These organisms play a crucial role in your mental and physical health, and if you upset this delicate balance, you become predisposed to a wide range of health problems.

Processed Foods Are a Bane to Your Health

As I've often stressed in my articles, processed foods and fast foods can absolutely wreak havoc on your health. Yes, they may be cheaper and more convenient, but they are excessively high in sugars, grains and factory farmed meats – a recipe for chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

I advise you to stop glorifying processed foods and fast foods because of their taste and convenience. Instead, keep in mind ALL of the cons that they bring to your health, such as:

  • Loading your body with extra calories that do nothing for your body
  • Exposing you to a toxic concoction of foreign chemicals and artificial flavors
  • Wasting your money — in fact, they may even lead to increased healthcare bills for you and your loved ones
  • Possibly harming your children, whose bodies are still developing and are in greater need of nutrients

I also recommend your diet to be composed of at least 90 percent non-processed, organic whole foods. Not only will you enjoy the health benefits, but you'll also be at peace as you know exactly what you're putting in your body.