A grandfather in Utah says he might own the “world’s oldest hamburger,” which he purchased from McDonald’s in 1999.
David Whipple, 69, of Logan, Utah, bought the 79-cent burger from McDonald’s for a work presentation on decomposition and enzymes (he was a marketer of nutritional supplements at the time). However, afterward, he stuffed the burger, its wrapper, and the receipt, into a pocket of a rarely-worn coat, and forgot all about it.
The coat sat inside Whipple’s car over the summer, then was retired to a closet in his home. And when his family moved from Logan to St. George later that year, so did the burger. In 2001, Whipple’s wife found the sandwich while attempting to throw out the coat. “We were dumbfounded — it looked brand-new,” the father of seven tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Whipple says the burger has never been refrigerated and smells “like dead, rotting cardboard,” but only in close range.
Intrigued, Whipple kept the burger, storing it on a top shelf. Since it didn’t smell, he says, mice and ants weren’t a threat. “I figured animals would run from it,” he jokes. In 2007, Whipple’s daughter decided to sell it on eBay, and a potential buyer offered up $2,000 for the meal, though the deal didn’t pan out.
On its 8th birthday, a local radio show offered Whipple $5,000 for the item to be consumed for entertainment purposes. But Whipple refused to sign documentation stating the burger was edible. “I told them whoever ate it would probably die, so that fell through,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But I thought, maybe we should hang onto this.”
Then, in 2013, after Whipple insured the burger for one million dollars, he mailed it to Los Angeles to be featured on a segment of the television show The Doctors. On the show, Dr. Travis Stork wore medical-grade gloves to perform an examination and physicians guessed that preservatives kept the meal intact.
When reached by Yahoo Lifestyle, a McDonald’s spokesperson said in a statement: “In the right environment, our burgers, like most other foods, could decompose. But, in order to decompose, you need certain conditions – specifically moisture. Without sufficient moisture – either in the food itself or the environment – bacteria and mold may not grow and therefore, decomposition is unlikely. So if food is or becomes dry enough, it is unlikely to grow mold or bacteria or decompose. Food prepared at home that is left to dehydrate could see similar results. Similarly, this particularly burger is likely dried out and dehydrated, and by no means the same as the day it was purchased.
“The reality is that our burgers are made with 100% USDA inspected beef,” read the statement. “There are no preservatives or fillers in our patties and the only thing ever added is a touch of salt and pepper on the grill.”
Donald W. Schaffner, Ph.D., food science graduate program director at Rutgers University, says that McDonald’s explanation is in line with science. And though the burger may look fresher than expected, it’s only because low water levels in the meat and bread have prevented mold growth, along with the sugar and salt in the pickles. “I suspect that if you cut off a portion of the burger and soaked it in a glass of water, it would spoil,” he says.
Climate, weather, and storage conditions would affect the quality of the burger today, along with the degree to which the burger was cooked. “A thin, overcooked meat patty would be dryer than a thicker, undercooked one,” he says, adding that the McDonald’s wrapper possibly wasn’t airtight, which could accelerate the drying process.
And the taste? “Probably rancid,” Schaffner tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “I’d also guess that the bun would be chalk-like or gummy.”
Whipple is presently running a similar test with hamburgers he purchased seven years ago from Wendy’s, In-N-Out, and Jack in the Box, which he keeps on a shelf at home, with their original wrappers and receipts.
But his all-star turns 21 in July. “My 70th birthday is next week and I bought the burger when I was 49,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Maybe it should be in the Smithsonian.”
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