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Toxic Mold in Cake Mix / Pancake Mix?


Netlore Archive: Viral texts warn that outdated cake mixes and pancake mixes may contain "toxic" mold that can result in illness or death.

Description: Viral text / Forwarded email
Circulating since: April 2006
Status: Partly true / Overblown (see details below)

2006 example:
Email contributed by C. Cooper, April 17, 2006:


DEAR ABBY: I recently made a batch of pancakes for my healthy 14-year-old son, using a mix that was in our pantry. He said that they tasted "funny," but ate them anyway. About 10 minutes later, he began having difficulty breathing and his lips began turning purple. I gave him his allergy pill, had him sit on the sofa and told him to relax. He was wheezing while inhaling and exhaling.

My husband, a volunteer firefighter and EMT, heated up some water, and we had my son lean over the water so the steam could clear his chest and sinuses. Soon, his breathing became more regular and his lips returned to a more normal color.

We checked the date on the box of pancake mix and, to my dismay, found it was very outdated. As a reference librarian at an academic institution, I have the ability to search through many research databases. I did just that, and found an article the next day that mentioned a 19-year-old male DYING after eating pancakes made with outdated mix. Apparently, the mold that forms in old pancake mix can be toxic!

When we told our friends about my son's close call, we were surprised at the number of people who mentioned that they should check their own pancake mix since they don't use it often, or they had purchased it some time ago. With so many people shopping at warehouse-type stores and buying large sizes of pancake mix, I hope your readers will take the time to check the expiration date on their boxes. -- SUE IN WYANTSKILL, N.Y.

DEAR SUE: Thank you for the warning. I certainly was not aware that pancake mix could turn moldy and cause an allergic reaction in someone with an allergy to mold -- but it's logical. I wonder if the same holds true for cake mix, brownie mix and cookie mix. If so, then a warning should be placed on the box for people like me.

We hear so often about discarding prescription and over-the-counter medications after their expiration dates, but I don't recall warnings about packaged items in the pantry. Heads up, folks!

2009 example:
Email contributed by David B., March 12, 2009:

Subject: Cake Mixes = Toxin (IMPORTANT INFO)

A student at HBHS (high school) had pancakes this week and it almost became fatal. His Mom (registered nurse) made him pancakes, dropped him off at school and headed to play tennis. She never takes her cell phone on the court but did this time and her son called to say he was having trouble breathing. She told him to go to the nurse immediately and proceeded to call school and alert the nurse. The nurse called the paramedics and they were there in 3 minutes and worked on the boy all the way to the hospital. He came so close to dying. Evidently this is more common then I ever knew. Check the expiration dates on packages like pancakes and cake mixes that have yeast which over time develop spores. Apparently, the mold that forms in old mixes can be toxic! Throw away ALL OUTDATED pancake mix, Bisquick, brownie mixes etc you have in your home.

You can check this website........ http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/pancake.asp

P. S. You might want to tell this to your children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces and anyone else who keeps these types of mixes in the cupboard.

Analysis: Albeit based on a real-life incident, these forwarded alerts about "toxic" mold in packaged cake and pancake mixes have grown more and more hysterical, and less and less accurate, over time. Compare the two examples above.

The "Dear Abby" column quoted in the older version of the message was published in April 2006. The story checks out. As Abby's correspondent mentioned, her son's allergic reaction to the "funny-tasting" pancakes resembles an actual case discussed in the September 2001 issue of the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology in which a 19-year-old male with mold allergies died of anaphylactic shock after consuming pancakes made from an outdated packaged mix in which mold spores were found.

It's important to note, however — doubly important, given that newer versions of the alert don't tell you this — that the patient had specific allergies to food molds that rendered him unusually susceptible. None of his friends who tasted the pancakes were reported to have suffered any ill effects. And while "Sue in Wyantskill" describes the son who developed breathing problems after eating pancakes as a "healthy 14-year-old," she also says he was on allergy medication. The medical literature indicates this type of severe reaction to common food molds is rare.

Household tips:
How to Prevent Mold in the Home - Nat'l Association of Home Builders
Perish the Thought of Outdated Foods - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Sources and further reading:

Dear Abby: Mold Could Be Lurking in Old Pancake Mix
Universal Press Syndicate, 13 April 2006

An Unusual Case of Anaphylaxis - Mold in Pancake Mix
(Abstract) American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, September 2001

Molds on Food: Are They Dangerous?
U.S. Food & Drug Administration fact sheet, 4 March 2010

Toxic Cake Mixes? Consider this Overblown Myth Debunked
GateHouse News Service, 2 September 2010

Pancake Paranoia
TheHubWeekly.com, article by bacteriologist Chris Atkinson

Last updated: 09/03/10

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