Ever find an old McDonald’s French fry wedged in your car seat and notice that it still looks as good as new? In not-that-shocking news, it would likely still look that way six years later.
A woman in Alaska posted a photo of a Happy Meal on Facebook that she says she bought six years ago — and it looks like it was made today.
“It’s been 6 years since I bought this ‘Happy Meal’ at McDonald’s,” Alaska-based chiropractor Jennifer Lovdahl captioned a photo of the meal, which has been shared nearly 243,000 times. “It’s been sitting at our office this whole time and has not rotted, molded, or decomposed at all!!! It smells only of cardboard.”
Lovdahl, who also posted a photo of the receipt (dated Jan. 8, 2010), says she did the experiment to show her patients how unhealthy fast food is. “There are so many chemicals in this food!” she wrote. “Choose real food! Apples, bananas, carrots, celery….Those are real fast food.”
But … six years without rotting? How is that even possible?
Even though six years seems like a stretch, New York City registered dietitian Jessica Cording says it can happen.
“I’m actually not that surprised, given the high sodium content,” she tells Yahoo Health. “People have been using salt for thousands of years to preserve foods, so even though fast food isn’t intended to last a long journey across the ocean or sustain you through war times or a drought, the salt in there may have that same effect.”
The ingredients may have changed in the past six years, but according to McDonalds.com, three out of the seven main ingredients in the chicken nuggets are or contain sodium. The fries contain less sodium than the nuggets, but are created with and cooked in oil, which may help preserve them. (Worth noting: McDonald’s says on its website that it uses no preservatives in its beef, so in case you want to try this at home, you should understand that a Big Mac may not hold up as long.)
The way in which the chicken nuggets and fries are prepared may also help preserve them, Gina Keatley, a certified dietitian-nutritionist practicing in New York City, tells Yahoo Health. Bacteria that breaks down food doesn’t like dry environments, and French fries are double-fried and frozen before they’re put in a Happy Meal, she points out. “This removes almost all of the water from the product, meaning that it is not a suitable environment for bacteria — thus the food does not rot, or does so at a much slower rate,” she says.
The meal’s freakish ability to remain preserved is troubling, but Cording says she’s most concerned about the sodium — especially for kids. “Excessive sodium intake over time can lead to a variety of chronic health conditions that can start in childhood,” she says. Among those conditions: High blood pressure, weight gain, and heart disease.
While the atmosphere apparently has trouble breaking down a Happy Meal, Cording and Keatley say that your body has an easier time of it (so a Happy Meal you ate as a child isn’t still sitting around in your stomach).
Keatley says it’s probably OK to have fast food as a special treat every now and then, but Cording calls this photo a “red flag” for regular consumers of fast food. “There are many reasons to avoid fast food — large portions, high calorie content, excessive amounts of sodium, sugar, and fat, and more,” she says.
And, apparently, its ability to stay intact for years.