Non-Rotting Hamburgers

Learning to design an experiment is one of the most important skills for a scientist. Beginning with middle school science projects, we constantly try to teach people to think about science in terms of framing meaningful questions and figuring out ways to answer them.

 The first time I saw this experiment, I thought it was an interesting research question: How long does it take for a Mickey D's burger to go bad? Answer: indefinitely. A hamburger left on a shelf will not go bad, it will last for more than a year with no major changes. As documented in numerous reports, it's a reproducible, falsifiable question that wasn't completely obvious. This idea fits in with our notions about the evils of processed  and industrialized food in America. Great experiment right? 

 Wrong. The implicit assumption here is that mass produced industrialized food goes bad AND that "real" food doesn't. At Serious Eats, someone finally did the control experiment, complete with photographic documentation and graphs. Turns out fresh, all natural ground beef burgers don't go bad sitting on a shelf, either. There's not enough moisture for decomposing microbes to flourish. Put either a McDonald's burger or a homemade burger in a bag and it will soon be a disgusting, rotted mess. As Kenji Lopez-Alt points out, there may be plenty of reasons to dislike McDonald's. Resorting to bad science shouldn't be one of them.

A variety of non-rotting burgers.

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