At the beginning of December, Oreo announced that it was partnering with Lady Gaga to release a limited-edition cookie with a pink-and-green color scheme inspired by her Chromatica album. Anyone who was super into the idea of a sandwich cookie stamped with the word 'Chromatica' could sign up for the Oreo x Lady Gaga Stan Club, which ensured they'd get "the latest breaking news surrounding the collaboration, including drop dates for the cookie." The rest of us forgot about it, because December was largely shit.
The Oreos hit real-life shelves over the weekend and Gaga's IRL Stan Club immediately started looking for them in supermarkets, big boxes, convenience stores, and any Rite-Aid within driving distance. On social media, people typed about frantically going from store to store, hoping to spot a single metallic pink package (or settling for one of the less visually impressive six-packs). "WHERE IS EVERYONE FINDING THE LADY GAGA OREOS I NEED ANSWERS," one person caps-locked, while others grumbled about the people who bought every pack in a California drugstore.
As of this writing, there are more than 600 eBay listings for the Oreos, ranging from $3 for an empty wrapper, to $6 for one six-pack, to $800 (plus $20.22 in shipping fees) for 10 full-sized packages. That sounds absolutely bonkers, but there's at least one person out there who has already dropped $75 for a single 12.2 ounce package. It's hard to say why anyone would pay so much for cookies, but Little Monsters are nothing if not committed. (It may have something to do with each sleeve coming with a chance to win a “unique experience” with Gaga.)
We're not in any way judging how anyone spends their cash—not even on that $6,000 Aladdin t-shirt—but what are you meant to do with a collectable cookie? How long can it stay on your shelf before it turns into some kind of Chromatica-branded biological weapon? VICE reached out to Brian Lovett and Matt Kasson, two West Virginia University scientists who study fungi. They've got previous experience with this kind of thing, having investigated how a dozen different fungal treatments would grow on marshmallow Peeps, and what kind of fungi developed inside an eight-year old Twinkie.
Both Lovett and Kasson agreed that, if the Oreos were kept inside a factory-sealed package, they're likely to stay untainted well beyond their shelf-life. "It's not a foregone conclusion that expired Oreos would actually grow fungi," Kasson said. "A variety of factors influence whether expired foods will be invaded by fungi, including the time [that has passed] since the Best Before date, and how they are stored. I read the shelf-life of unopened Oreos is 180 days, and once open, we'd expect they'd stay good for another couple of weeks under proper storage."
Resisting the urge to get a mouthful of green creme-filling is crucial though, because it prevents any microorganisms from introducing themselves to the cookies. "The process of making an Oreo is remarkably mechanized," Lovett added. "For food safety, the conditions are kept quite clean, so I think you could reasonably end up with a package of Oreos that lacks a spoiling microbe. Once opened, these microbes could easily find their way to the Oreos through the air."
After collectors post their pics on Instagram, the best way to prolong the Oreos' lives would be to keep them in the freezer, both researchers agreed. (Lovett also recommended irradiating the sealed package with gamma rays, in case you needed a weekend project.)
If any microbes did make their way into the package, the cookies themselves would probably degrade more quickly than the sugary creme filling. "Fillings tend to be sweeter and less hospitable for microbes," Kasson said. "We saw this with our mummified Twinkies. The filling remained uncolonized by fungi, whereas the cake was totally consumed." (If the cookies were kept sterile and microbe-free, he said they would eventually dry out and crumble, which seems weirdly anticlimactic.)
Storing them might be a better option than eating them anyway. "The Lady Gaga don’t taste as good as the regular Golden Oreos," one disappointed buyer tweeted. On the bright side, you could probably still get $3 for the empty wrapper.