DINING A LA KING: Celebrating a 10-year-old McDonald’s hamburger

MARSHALL V. KING | PHOTO CONTRIBUTEDColumnist Marshall V. King's 10-year-old McDonald's hamburger rests on its original wrapper.

As I told someone about my McDonald’s hamburger having a birthday, she asked if I was going to take it back to the restaurant to celebrate.

I’m not. We opted for a quiet celebration at home instead. Happy birthday to my 10-year-old hamburger.

On July 2, 2009, I bought a plain McDonald’s hamburger at the North Main Street location in Elkhart. I took it back to my desk, opened the wrapper and put it in a drawer. The patty started to shrivel. The bun dried and the bottom half of the toasted bread actually cracked at some point.

At first, the patty simply shrank and resembled an air hockey puck — though with a faint smell of beef jerky. As the years have passed, the patty has curled slightly and lost what aroma it had.

Other than that, the sandwich looks about like it did a few months after purchase. It doesn’t have a speck of mold. The ink on the receipt has disappeared, and I could no longer tell you how much it cost me that day.

When it turned 5, a coworker asked if I was going to register the burger for kindergarten. I didn’t, but I know it has inspired at least one school science project.

Former co-workers and others still ask about the burger. It’s become a bit of a mascot. Every so often, someone sends along a link to someone else who has a fast food sandwich that has slowly stood the test of time after not being ingested moments after its sale.

The burger and I have done local television appearances together. For one of them, I found a lidded wooden box that held orange vodka. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to taste that any more than what the box currently holds. I added a few foam peanuts for protection, and this dried bit of food is right at home with the wood, foam and wax paper. My sandwich is a relic, an artifact and it is fragile.

A couple years ago, a local nonprofit asked if it could borrow the sandwich to show to some school children, and I said no. It was a noble cause, but things happen in those situations, and I wasn’t willing to accept the risk of losing this symbolic sandwich. Maybe I should don a pair of white gloves and go on the road with it the way the minders of the Stanley Cup do.

Over the years, the burger has deskmates. For a time, I had a McDonald’s pie that also didn’t mold. It was a couple years younger than the burger. I couldn’t verify when it had been purchased and at some point it just shriveled to the point that it didn’t make sense to keep it.

On March 6, 2018, as I tested fast-food fish sandwiches, I didn’t eat a Filet-O-Fish to see what would happen. I didn’t plan that, but when the restaurant inexplicably didn’t put tartar sauce on it, and I was already full, it seemed like an invitation to see what would happen. The fish shank and the breading cracked. The cheese slice bonded the fish to the bun as it came to resemble orange plastic. The bun again didn’t mold.

I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again: the fast food just has a lot of salt and preservatives and it shouldn’t surprise any of us that no mold appears if it’s left to air-dry. The burger’s wrapper indicates it had 520 mg of sodium. If you buy a fast-food sandwich and put it in a sealed plastic bag, you’ll likely get mold.

I keep the burger because it’s cool, it’s odd and it’s a reminder to pay attention to what and how we eat. Home-baked bread will grow mold far sooner than one purchased at the grocery store. Fresh strawberries will get fuzzy if left on the counter. A McDonald’s hamburger won’t. (Interestingly, I’ve noticed that lettuce grown in soil ages faster than hydroponic greens, though I’m not sure what that means. Studying that as I eat more greens wouldn’t hurt me.)

So happy birthday to my hamburger. I’ll continue to keep you safe and dry and tell your story.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat.

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