Outside of a KFC restaurant

From tales of McDonald’s serving pig fat shakes to the myth that eating Popeyes makes you sterile, urban legends about fast food chains have been doing the rounds for decades. The advent of social media and fake news has only contributed to the problem. Online platforms make it easy for people to post unverified information or malicious statements while remaining anonymous. And these can spread across the globe in a matter of a few misguided Facebook posts or Tweets.

The fast food industry has taken its share of hits from the online misinformation explosion, and KFC has been no exception. A part of the fast food industry since the 1950s, over the years the chain has had to deal with a plethora of rumors and urban legends — many of them highly inflammatory. And while the affordability and speed at which KFC delivers its food could make anybody suspicious, this doesn’t mean that the franchise is cutting corners or hiding some diabolical secrets. With this in mind, here are some of the most pervasive KFC myths and why they are simply not true.

Colonel Sanders was a real army Colonel

Colonel Sanders making fried chicken

Affectionately known as Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Harland David Sanders, wasn’t a real colonel (via Today I Found Out). That said, he did falsify his birth date to enlist in the army at the age of 16 in 1906. He was honorably discharged after spending just three months in Cuba. After numerous short-term jobs, Sanders took over the running of a gas station, where he started serving fried chicken. And his fare became so popular that he ended up buying a motel across the street and turning it into a restaurant.

Just five years later in 1935, Kentucky Governor Ruby Laffoon bestowed Sanders with the honorary title of Colonel for his culinary contribution to the state. It was from this moment on that the fried chicken tycoon became Colonel Sanders, embracing the gray-haired, goateed look that we are so familiar with today. In fact, Sanders was so well-liked that after losing his colonel certificate, Governor Lawrence Weatherby recommissioned him as a Colonel in 1950.

Colonel Sanders stole the secret KFC recipe

KFC fried chicken piece

According to one frequently-repeated story, Colonel Sanders stole his "11 herbs and spices" recipe. In September 2019, the following post appeared on the African Diaspora Instagram page: "Meet Mrs. Childress. Colonel Sanders Stole His Famous Fried Chicken Recipe From A Black Woman Named Mrs. Childress. He later paid her $1,200 for her recipe. KFC is worth 15 Billion Dollars today." The same month, a post appeared on the Glenn Dickens Facebook account stating: "Meet Miss Childress, she died in poverty. She is the woman behind the original #KFC recipe. He took all her profits and made us think it was his recipe" (via Snopes).

Both the Instagram and Facebook posts featured an image of a woman preparing chicken, which turned out to be an image from a 1920s magazine advertisement. While we can’t eliminate the possibility that the lady featured in the advertising is indeed Mrs. Childress, this seems like a bit of a stretch. According to Snopes, this story is particularly unlikely because what made Colonel Sanders’ fried chicken so popular as fast food was his use of a pressure cooker rather than its unique blend of seasonings.

Colonel Sanders once put a curse on a Japanese baseball team

 Hanshin Tigers baseball player

Many believe that the spirit of Colonel Sanders put a hex on the Japanese baseball team Hanshin Tigers after they won the 1985 Japan Series. After the win, a local tradition called for fans to gather on Ebisubashi Bridge in Osaka and celebrate the victory by chanting the names of different team members. After a name was called out, a fan who looked like that particular player jumped into the Dotonbori River. When nobody who resembled the Western pitcher Randy Bass could be found among the Japanese crowd, somebody came up with the idea of throwing a statue of Colonel Sanders, which was promptly stolen from a nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken, into the waters (via MLB).

The Hanshin Tigers’ luck ran out from the moment the statue of Colonel Sanders sank into the murky depths of the Dotonbori River. After two decades went by without any further wins for the Tigers, fans became adamant that Colonel Sanders had placed a curse on the team. This view was so prevalent that in 2009 the statue — sans an arm and glasses — was pulled out of the river (via How Stuff Works). Reclaiming Colonel Sanders, however, hasn’t changed the team’s luck — they still haven’t won their second Japan Series Championship (via Dutch Baseball Hangout).

KFC’s 11 herbs and spices recipe is no longer secret

Woman eats KFC fried chicken

There are plenty of websites, such as Taste of Home, that claim to have been able to replicate KFC’s secret recipe. Many of these claims originate in the fact that the nephew of Colonel Sanders, Joe Ledington, once told the Chicago Tribune that he discovered the recipe in a family scrapbook: "The big thing we did was mix [the ingredients] with flour and bag it up and sell it to restaurants." Ledington added, "Actually, my job was cutting up chickens and bagging up chicken mix. That’s what I did as a 10-, 11-, 12-year-old kid." A picture of the purported handwritten original recipe was published in the same article.

However, KFC vehemently denied that the sacred recipe has been leaked. Apparently, the franchise goes as far as using different suppliers to protect the integrity of its fried chicken. "In the 1940s, Colonel Sanders developed the original chicken recipe to be sold at his gas station diner. At the time, the recipe was written above the door so anyone could have read it. But today, we go to great lengths to protect such a sacred blend of herbs and spices," a spokesperson from KFC told the Chicago Tribune.

KFC uses genetically modified mutant chickens

Bucket of KFC fried chicken

The rumor that KFC uses genetically modified chickens with extra limbs and no beaks or feathers has been making the rounds for decades. "These so-called ‘chickens’ are kept alive by tubes inserted into their bodies to pump blood and nutrients throughout their structure," stated a Daily Buzz Live story. "Their bone structure is dramatically shrunk to get more meat out of them. This is great for KFC because it saves them money for their production costs."

KFC disproved the mutant chicken myth once and for all when it won a 2016 lawsuit against three Chinese companies for allegedly spreading the rumor (via Reuters). A Shanghai court fined the companies $91,191 and ordered them to apologize for posting derogatory statements and doctored photos of chickens on their social messaging accounts. While the verdict vindicated KFC, the damages didn’t reach the compensation of $245,000 from each company that the fast food chain had sought (via Business Insider).

KFC changed its name from Kentucky Fried Chicken due to claims of false advertising

KFC drive thru sign

In 1991, after 39 years in business, Kentucky Fried Chicken announced that it would be changing its name to KFC (via Southern Living). Shortly after, a chain email claimed that the company was forced to remove the word "chicken" from its name because it was using genetically-modified poultry rather than real chickens. There were also rumors of a so-called "study of KFC" at the University of New Hampshire — something the university has since denied — that found that KFC uses "genetically manipulated organisms" instead of chickens.

KFC insists that the rebranding had nothing to do with the content of its food. "There is absolutely no truth to this ridiculous urban legend, which has been debunked many times," KFC spokesman Rick Maynard told Business Insider. "KFC uses only top quality poultry from trusted companies like Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride — the same brands customers know from their local supermarkets." According to Snopes, the name change was prompted by the company’s desire to shorten its name, disassociate itself from the word "fried," and place more emphasis on menu items other than chicken.

A KFC customer once found a deep-fried rat in his food

Alleged breaded deep-fried rat

In 2015, Devorise Dixon posted a story on Facebook in which he claimed that one of the breaded chicken pieces he purchased at KFC turned out to be a deep-fried rat (via Eater). He soon followed the initial post with the following statement: "Went back to KFC yesterday and spoke to the manager. She said it is a rat and apologized, it’s time for a lawyer. Be safe. Don’t eat fast food!!!" It didn’t take long before the posts went viral.

KFC denied that the rat-shaped nugget was anything other than chicken. "Our chicken tenders often vary in size and shape, we currently have no evidence to support this claim," KFC told CNN. The suspicious chicken piece was eventually tested at an independent lab, which determined that it was indeed a piece of breaded chicken. And the response from KFC? "The right thing for this customer to do is to apologize and cease making false claims about the KFC brand" (via Los Angeles Times).