In the summer of 1999, a then 49-year-old Utah man went to McDonald's and paid 79 cents for a hamburger that he planned to use at work during a presentation on food decomposition. But some long-forgotten event distracted him, and he shoved the burger into the pocket of a jacket that he rarely wore, and it stayed there for the next two years.
"I didn’t realize it was there all that time,” David Whipple told Popular Mechanics last month. The now 70-year-old no longer has that job, or that jacket, but he still has the same McDonald's burger—and he says that it's the oldest one in the world.
The burger still looks like a McDonald's hamburger. Although the pickle, ketchup, and onions have dried up and withered away, both the bun and the McMeat look like they could've been purchased...well, if not this morning, then at least at some point since the iPhone was invented. "You have to really get close to it and even then, it doesn't smell like food," he said. "It smells like old cardboard."
Despite that burger's two-decade lifespan, Burger King has zero desire for any of its meals to become collectors' items. In a new ad campaign, it shows the time-lapse decomposition of a Whopper, and the chain is damn proud of how moldy that meat gets.
In a 45-second commercial called "The Moldy Whopper," a burger is assembled in the most photogenic way possible, and then left to rot for the next four weeks. The lettuce wilts, the bun sags, and the entire thing develops a thick layer of green mold, which is filmed in a way that will make you lowkey regret the development of HD video. "The Beauty of No Artificial Preservatives," the tagline reads.
The ad was released to celebrate Burger King's self-described "milestone" decision to remove all artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives from the Whoppers it sells in "most European countries" and in 400 restaurants throughout the United States. (It expects the preservative-free burgers to be available in all U.S. locations by the end of the year.)
"At Burger King restaurants, we believe that real food tastes better," Fernando Machado, Restaurant Brands International Global Chief Marketing Officer, said in a statement. "That’s why we are working hard to remove preservatives, colors and flavors from artificial sources from the food we serve in all countries around the world."
The striking visuals in the "Moldy Whopper" ad received a mixed response on YouTube. Although some commenters hailed the concept as "Brilliant" and "[a] piece of art," others said that putting the image of a rotting burger into potential customers' heads might not have been a great idea. "Love the removal of artificial bs, pretty disgusting imagery to associate with your brand though," one viewer wrote.
As for the Keith Richards of McDonald's hamburgers, the company said that artificial preservatives had nothing to do with its unnervingly long lifespan. "In the right environment, our burgers, like most other foods, could decompose," the company wrote in a 2013 statement called 'Response to Myth that McDonald's Burgers Don't 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 [...] 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." (McDonald's officially announced that it would remove artificial preservatives, flavors and coloring from its signature burgers in September 2018.)
If you recently purchased a Whopper and don't remember eating it, now's probably a good chance to check your coat pockets. Otherwise, it's gonna be a mess in there.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.