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Urban Legends: 101 McDonald's Rumors


Forget the special sauce. What's in the meat?

Whether it's a hard-hitting expose on the health risks of its cuisine or a horrifying nightmare featuring a blood-soaked Ronald, McDonald's (MCD) has suffered through some seriously awful rumors despite its staggering global success. Then again, no worldwide food chain can serve billions and billions of burgers at such low prices and high speed without provoking some suspicion.

Back in the '70s, the quality of the brand's mass-produced meat patties came into question. Unfortunately, that question was, "You're putting worms in the meat, aren't you?" Cost-cutting and a shortage of all-natural beef were claimed to be the reason for the wriggly switch.

Long before the age of the email forward, the "worm meat" rumor circulated by word of mouth to an astounding degree. According to, an owner of 4 McDonald's locations in Atlanta, Georgia saw profits fall by 30% following the rumor, and was forced to lay off a third of his employees.

Even after customers were convinced that the burgers contained only FDA-approved ingredients -- probably after learning that worm meat is actually much more expensive than cow meat -- the rumor still enjoys a resurgence every few years.

Bait hasn't been the only delicacy purported to fill out the menu. Both cow eyeballs -- the Golden Arches was said to be the world's biggest buyer -- and feathers have been rumored to be staples of both the beef patties and the McFlurries, respectively. Once again, cow eyeballs would raise the cost of ingredients substantially; McFlurries -- despite that story about the girl allergic to feathers who fell ill after consuming one -- don't contain feathers.

While the McDonald's menu has been hit hard by more than a few whoppers -- not literally, of course -- the eatery does have its share of non-food related rumors.

Environmental activists David Morris and Helen Steel distributed a scathing pamphlet on the streets of London in 1986 listing some dubious claims against the restaurant. Among the charges: Third World starvation, child exploitation, poisoned customers, animal torture, union busting, wanton food disposal, and and an expert cover-up of all its malfeasance.

The controversy gained such traction that McDonald's felt the need to press charges. Dubbed the McLibel case, the lawsuit was compounded by appeals over a period of decades. Although McDonald's claimed victory, the negative press it attracted in the process overshadowed the false claims that prompted the suit in the first place.

In the mid-'90s, an email began popping up in inboxes regarding foreign objects found inside the ball pits of McDonald's Playland. Along with the standard food, vomit, and feces found in many of the ball pits, a mother shares a grisly tale in which her child dies from a stray heroin-filled hypodermic needle left behind in the play area -- likely by some dirty, dirty hippie!

She claims the needle broke off inside her child and he overdosed at the tender age of 3. A fabricated article from the Houston Chronicle was referenced as the supporting source to the story.

Parents of small children forwarded this email to a degree that you'd think Bill Gates promised them a share of his fortune for doing so. Of course, there was no article, no needle, and no dead child. Ball pits, however, will continue to be intangible phantasms of menace and intrigue.

Despite all the potentially devastating stories, the Golden Arches have prevailed. The chain relentlessly expands into every section of the world like an indestructible regime and -- except for a few dips -- its
stock has steadily risen for nearly 40 years. For a company that doesn't produce tobacco or radioactive waste -- not including the McRib -- McDonald's has arguably seen more negative press stemming from fabrications than any other company.

But there was one rumor that did emerge from an actual event.

The long, spoon-shaped coffee stirrers were discontinued because of their frequent use as coke spoons. As such, cocaine addicts no longer had to risk their health for the compelling allure of McDonald's food.

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