Photo: julien, Flickr
Anyone who's cleaned out a minivan can attest that McDonald's food just...doesn't...age. A fresh-looking burger lies stiffly next to a completely rotted apple core. The fries scattered in the backseat are hard and cold, to be sure, but there's not a spot of mold on them. And it's been weeks since the kids had those Happy Meals! What gives?
There's long been speculation that this food fountain of youth is due to a massive amount of preservatives. But McDonald's maintains that their burgers, at least, are completely preservative-free.
The answer may not be quite as sinister as suspected. Although McDonald's hasn't actually fessed up to whether preservatives lurk in anything other than its burgers, there are scientific explanations for what Salon calls this "shelf life of the undead," and while they're not exactly scary, they're not exactly healthy, either. Rather than huge levels of chemicals, we're talking hefty servings of fat and salt.
"Anything that is high in fat will be low in moisture," Barry Swanson, professor at the Washington State University department of food science, told Salon. The higher the fat content, the lower the moisture; the lower the moisture, the less opportunity for mold cultures. Swanson also pointed out that the signature thinness of the McDonald's French fry adds another advantage -- there's greater surface exposure to heat during cooking, drying (and sterilizing) each fry. Then there's the salt -- which not only imparts flavor but also has been used as a natural preservative for centuries.
Could it really be that simple? Keep it fatty and salty, and you'll keep your food around longer? Maybe. But...let's not try this at home.