Why Happy Meals Don’t Get Moldy and Decompose

There’s a number of web sites, like this one: Happy Meal Project – Artist Sally Davies Photographs McDonald’s Happy Meal For 137 Days and this one: Year-old Happy Meal hasn’t decomposed (photos) – Knoxville healthy food | Examiner.com, where people expose Happy Meals for many many days and despite that, the Happy Meals don’t decompose. Why is that?

The answer you get from alot of people is:  Happy Meals are bad for you! Which is an answer, but not a very scientific one.

It’s more likely the case, as one of the commentators noted, that:

The reason the Happy Meal appears not to change during the extended time on the table is the fact that the bread, beef and fried potatoes have VERY LITTLE MOISTURE in them. Dried meat keeps for years. The fries were basket fried in hot oil causing most of the moisture to evaporate as steam while they cooled. The Beef patty is fried on a flat grill causing much the same condition. The bread is stable and dry but would (and does) mold in less dessicated climates. Anyone familiar with food dehydration will find nothing odd or disquieting about that fact that dry food tends to stay decomposition free in dry climates. In fact, organic meats and potatoes prepared the way McDonald’s prepares its food would have stayed just as changeless for the same period of time. 

The photographer obviously knows this as she clearly asked for the burger without ketchup, mustard, pickles or diced onions – something McDonald’s only does on request – to keep the burger dry. This is a mean spirited trick perpetrated on a public who should know better.

Now I don’t know if this is a mean spirited trick or not, but it is a fact that Happy Meals are very dry, and dryness is a key condition as to whether or not something gets moldy.

There are other things besides dryness, too. The burgers and french fries are high in fat and salt which can add to the preservative nature of the food. As well as.. well, McDonald’s use preservatives in their food! And McDonald’s strives to keep their establishments clean, which decreases the chance of mold landing on your food. (Indeed, in one of these experiments, some mold did appear on a Happy Meal hamburger next to a very moldy hamburger that was not McDonald’s but likely contaminated the other.)

If you want more nutritional information on McDonald’s Happy Meals, you can go here. If your child is eating Happy Meals, try to aim for combos lower on the list. According to this site, children 1 to 3 years old should only have 800 mg of sodium a day, yet some Happy Meals exceed that. Not to mention that they have alot of fat and saturated fat. A hamburger, apple slices and either milk or apple juice will reduce the amount of salt and fat and boost the number of other vitamins and minerals in the meal.

Happy Meals are not the most nutritional meal you can put together for your child. If you can offer them a more nutritional meal that they will like and eat, then by all means, that’s your best choice. But make your choice based on facts, not on sensational photos and articles.

(Photo from the first article. I’ve included it to illustrate the comment that the burger is obviously very dry. McDonald’s food is dry generally, but you may not notice this because they also give you large drinks.)


5 responses to “Why Happy Meals Don’t Get Moldy and Decompose

  1. smartpeopleiknow

    McDonald’s has a formal reply here:


    Note: they state they don’t use preservatives in their beef patties. Fair enough. McDonald’s does use preservatives on some of their food (e.g., apple slices). But not the patties.

    I found out about this via this article: http://gizmodo.com/5663454/mcdonalds-reply-to-the-incorruptible-happy-meal-video

  2. I just recently saw the Sallie Davies article and decided I had to try it myself. I am only at Day 6, but it is rock hard and doesn’t appear moldy. I also didn’t think to order it without the fixings – it is a regular cheeseburger. While the moisture content may be higher due to the pickles, onions, ketchup, etc., I suspect that the sodium will keep this in check. We will see…

  3. I’ve conducted a controlled experiment with 4 variables on McD’s and homemade food. Here are the preliminary results:


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