The Treat That Turned Into an Accidental Trick

October is a very spooky month. Well, not really — it’s just a regular month and, really, is not any more spooky than March or August. But October ends with Halloween, so it is as good of a time as any for us to find ways to make things a little scarier than they would otherwise be. Usually, that comes in the form of decorations — we carve pumpkins, wear costumes, and maybe even adorn our houses with fake cobwebs or things that resemble what ghosts would look like if ghosts were real. It’s all in good fun.

But what happens when fake, good-natured scariness celebrations turn into real scares? That’s bad. Just as Burger King.

That, pictured above is Burger King’s signature hamburger, the Whopper. It’s a four-ounce (precooked weight) beef burger adorned with mayo, tomatoes, pickles, onions, and ketchup, with cheese as a common additional ingredient, all positioned on a sesame seed bun. It’s not healthy for you, obviously, especially if you ignore the nutritional information. It’s just a regular fast-food burger with an iconic name. Nothing about it is particularly scary.

But the Halloween season requires everything to become a little more spooky, right? So in October 2015, Burger King decided it was time to frighten up the Whooper. The result looked like this.

That was the Halloween Whopper. It is also a four-ounce (precooked weight) beef burger adorned with mayo, tomatoes, pickles, onions, and ketchup, with cheese as a common additional ingredient, all positioned on a sesame seed bun. But — get this! — they died the bun black. Scary, right?

Okay, it’s not that scary. It’s just another fun and fright-free way to celebrate the Halloween season. No one who would have eaten a regular Whopper is going to say “nah, this new Halloween Whopper scares me too much.”  Or, at least, it didn’t on the way in. But what about on the way out? That proved different. As CBC News reported, ” special treat comes with a surprising trick — ghoulishly green poop.” 

Shortly after eating these scary sliders, dozens of people went on Twitter to share their gastrointestinal adventures. Some were not all that positive about the experience; for example, one guy attested that “yesterday I had the Halloween Whopper… Today my poop is green,” and then noted that “yesterday was the last time I’ll have the Halloween Whopper.” Others were excited about the adventure; one person triumphantly stated “I ate a Halloween whopper just to see if my poop turned green and it DID.” Some described their poops; for example, there’s one guy who said his “stool was as green as the Irish countryside after a quenching rain.” Some even shared pictures of their doodies: the next link is going to be one that will show you what was in some random person’s toilet, so please take caution before clicking, okay? Great: here’s the link to someone’s green number two. And while many saw Burger King’s Halloween Whopper as a marketing stunt gone awry, at least one person saw it as a great idea, just poorly timed; he asked “[do] you think Burger King will bring back the #greenpoop for St. Patrick’s Day?”

They probably could have safely. CBS News spoke with Dr. Ian Lustbader, a professor of medicine and a gastroenterologist at New York University, and the best guess is that Burger King just used a lot of food dye. Per that CBS News report, “food coloring is not always completely absorbed by the intestines during digestion, and the dye that isn’t absorbed can seep into food material that’s sitting in the gut, turning it different colors. USA Today echoed that same sentiment, noting that “other dyes, like those in cake frosting, can deliver the same outcome. If you eat mass quantities of bright foods (beets, tomatoes or leafy greens) you might also notice a greater spectrum in your rectal rainbow.” Eat a lot of it — either too often or all at once — and sure, bad things can happen. But you’d have to eat a lot of Halloween Whoppers for the dye to do you in (and the saturated fat and calories would probably get you first).

But odd-colored stool can be a sign of something very serious, so as marketing stunts go, this wasn’t a great one. (Turning your customers’ toilet-going moments into a brief panic at best and a trip to the doctor at worst isn’t a great idea.) That Halloween Whopper didn’t make a return trip to Burger King’s menu in October — or March — of 2016.

Bonus fact: If you’re eating sushi in the United States, chances are you are eating food dye when you eat wasabi. Actually, no, you’re not eating wasabi at all. Wasabi is a type of plant that requires very specific growing conditions and, therefore, is not cultivated at scale. So unless you’re in Japan, whatever you’re eating isn’t actually wasabi. As the Washington Post explains, “what sushi restaurants actually serve alongside spicy tuna rolls is a horseradish-based concoction that is injected with green food coloring, infused with various types of mustard, and, often even, a bunch of other chemicals.”

From the Archives: A Sinister Hamburger: A much better marketing stunt from the brains at Burger King.