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Burger King’s latest ad promotes the removal of artificial preservatives from their famous burgers — but does that mean they’re better for you? Image via Burger King
  • Usually, fast food ads are designed to tempt our appetites with well-crafted images of delicious food.
  • But a new Burger King ad is turning that on its head with images of a decaying, moldy Whopper.
  • The ad is designed to promote Burger King’s removal of artificial preservatives, colors, and flavors from its popular sandwich.
  • Nutritionists say it’s a move in the right direction, but is it really that much better for you?

If you’ve seen Burger King’s latest ad, you know it begins with the staging of a beautiful Whopper sandwich.

But as the commercial continues, it switches to a 34-day time lapse of the burger as it quickly wilts and succumbs to mold growth.

Finally, the ad closes with the words: “The beauty of no artificial preservatives.”

Usually, fast food commercials are designed to tempt appetites with well-crafted images of delicious food.

Juicy burgers piled high with tasty toppings take center stage, accompanied by voice-overs using tantalizing words like “hot,” “meaty,” and “fresh.”

So what’s up with Burger King’s latest ad campaign featuring a moldy Whopper?

And what does this all mean for the consumer? Is a Whopper that’s free of artificial ingredients necessarily a healthier Whopper?

According to a press release, Burger King’s goal with the ad was to make a “powerful statement.”

“At Burger King restaurants, we believe that real food tastes better,” said Restaurant Brands International Global Chief Marketing Officer, Fernando Machado. “That’s why we are working hard to remove preservatives, colors, and flavors from artificial sources from the food we serve…”

In addition to removing artificial preservatives from the Whopper, the fast food chain has also removed artificial colors and flavors from all core menu sandwiches and sides.

The changes will affect most European countries.

In the United States, 400 Burger King locations already have the preservative-free Whoppers and there are plans to roll them out to all stores by the end of the year.

As for the inspiration behind the ad, it may have come from a news story that went viral in 2013.

The story featured a Utah man named David Whipple who had bought a McDonald’s hamburger back in July 1999.

His original intent was to use it as a visual aid in presentations about enzymes and deterioration.

Somehow the burger got stuck in a coat pocket and was forgotten for several years. Later it was found, and he’s kept it stored in a tin since then.

The remarkable thing about the hamburger was that it looked virtually unchanged since it was originally purchased, presumably thanks to the preservatives in it.

But in a January 2020 update to the story, a McDonald’s representative denied that preservatives had anything to do with the longevity of Whipple’s burger.

Burger King states that they’ve removed artificial preservatives, colors, and flavors — but what does that really mean?

Since they declined an interview with Healthline, we asked nutritionists for their opinion.

Jane DeWitt, MS, RD, manager of Food and Nutrition Services at Atlantic Health System’s Hackettstown Medical Center, said she feels this claim could be misleading to the consumer because it doesn’t clarify exactly what it is that’s been removed.

Dana Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, senior dietitian at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and an adjunct assistant professor at the Fielding School of Public Health, said she would prefer not to speculate about exactly what they removed.

However, Dr. Hunnes believes some of the possibilities might be:

  • sodium benzoate, an antimicrobial preservative and flavoring agent
  • ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), a preservative used in packaged foods, including mayonnaise
  • calcium propionate, a preservative commonly used in baked goods, such as hamburger buns
  • artificial colors in the yellow family, which are used to give certain food a more pleasing appearance

Food preservatives are helpful in the sense that they extend the shelf life of foods by inhibiting the growth of microorganisms that cause the food to spoil and decay, DeWitt said.

Colors are used to make foods more visually appealing, she added. They may also be used to provide cues about flavors in foods that don’t normally have the color that consumers associate with that particular flavor.

Flavors are used to enhance the natural flavor of the food.

Food additives are GRAS products, according to Hunnes, meaning they’re “generally recognized as safe.”

“However,” she noted, “I have also seen reports that some preservatives, and especially artificial colors, may be carcinogenic and/or allergenic.”

“Any move away from artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives is a good move in my mind,” said Hunnes, “but to be frank, their menu items aren’t particularly healthier.”

“This is a very minor change in the overall healthfulness, or lack thereof, of the actual product,” she added.

Hunnes explained that fast foods aren’t good for health because they contain highly processed ingredients with large amounts of salt, sugar, and fats.

Also, they often have the fiber and many vitamins and minerals beneficial for health removed.

Further, they often contain cheap fillers and are high in calories, encouraging their overconsumption.

“A high calorie, high sodium, and high fat meal without health benefits doesn’t do a body good,” Hunnes said.

DeWitt agreed. “In a sense, the burger can be considered healthier because it’s a more ‘natural’ product, but the nutritional value doesn’t change.”

She explained that processed foods are unhealthy for multiple reasons, not because of preservatives alone.

“The takeaway here: As with all things, everything in moderation,” she said.