Saturday, June 03, 2006

Mold in Pancake Mix CAN Be Fatal


Do you live alone? If so, you’re probably like me always finding things in the back of the pantry that have been there for years.

I started making it a practice to routinely check dates and throw stuff out after a guest found a box of cheese spread in my refrigerator that was a year past expiration date. Luckily we checked the date first.

An embarrassing wake up call.

I’m really allergic to mold, in the air and in foods, so I’m careful not to get around them. I also learned the hard way not to test by sniffing; it’s just about as bad as tasting it.

But when someone read me the supposed “Dear Abby” column about pancake mix and mold, I didn’t pay much attention to it. I think of “damp” things as having mold, and that mold is something you can see, so you would know -- like that white stuff around the edges of cheddar cheese after a while. I’ve had weevils in mixes and spices (never forget the time I sprinkled paprika into the cream sauce and it started moving. Yes, those you can see.


The “Dear Abby” thing, in case you haven’t seen it, is about a mother making pancakes for her 14-year old son using an outdated pancake mix, and he has a severe allergic reaction.

Turns out this was reported in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology (2001). A teen aged boy with a history of allergies to molds died from eating pancakes from a box of pancake mix that had been open for two years. His friends stopped eating the pancakes because they said they tasted “like rubbing alcohol.” Unfortunately he continued eating, and died. Like reactions to bee stings, for some people it’s a minor event. For someone else, it can be fatal.

However, it’s never a good idea to eat mold. Checking this out with bacteriologists and nutritional scientists, we find:

• Molds can grow on many foods, including grain products. You may have heard of Ergot of rye, when rye is infected with a fungus. It contains mycotoxins, used for medicines, and is the original source where LSD was isolated. Consuming it can cause convulsions, gangrene and death, in people and in cattle.
• Molds come in different colors and textures from dust to fuzz, to fur, from white, to gray to green. They all can make you sick.
• Visible mold produces spores which easily become airborne. Below the visible mold are “threads” or “roots” extending down into the product. Near the threads can be mycotoxins, some of which are carcinogenic. So don't just cut it off the cheese. Get rid of the cheese.
• Cooking does not kill mycotoxins.
In January of this year, the head of Europe’s biggest pasta mill was arrested in Italy for alledgedly “adulteriating” food products, attempting to sell 58,000 tonnes of durum wheat found to be contaminated with ochratoxin, a powerful cancer-producing toxin.

SO …

• Check expiration dates before you buy. Be aware that grocery stores will put things on sale close to the expiration date. It is also possible you will be sold something already past expiration date.
• Once home, write the purchase date on food containers.
• When you put things in your pantry and refrigerator, put the newer things in the back.
• Store opened grain products in airtight containers once you have opened them. Freezing them is no guarantee. Check the dates.
• Check produce in the store for mold. Once you get it home, wash it and eat it quickly. Once washed, it is prone to get mold rapidly.
• Clean your refrigerator every few months with a solution of 1T baking soda in 1 qt. of water.
• Scrub black mold off the rubber casting with a solution of 2 t. bleach in 1 qt. water.
• Wash your dishcloths, sponges and dishtowels frequently. I would just throw the sponge out. I knit dishcloths from cotton yarn and give them for gifts. People love them because they clean well, and also you can put them in the washing machine. Heck, you can even boil them.
• If you find or suspect mold, don’t sniff it. To dispose of it, move the item very carefully so as not to disturb spores, which can become airborne, seal it in a bag and put it in the trash outside immediately.
• Throw out the contaminated container. If you must keep it, clean it with very hot water and soap or antibacterial cleaner.
• Check out the USDA site for fact sheets on molds.
• WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT. It just isn’t worth it.

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