Toxic Mold in Cake Mix

Can It Kill?

Moldy cupcakes. Diane Macdonald/Getty Images

Viral texts circulating since April 2006 warn that outdated cake mixes and pancake mixes may contain "toxic" mold that can result in illness or death.

Analysis of Toxic Mold Claim

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

The "Dear Abby" column quoted in the older version of the message was published in April 2006 and the story checks out. As Abby's correspondent mentioned, her son's allergic reaction to the "funny-tasting" pancakes resembles an actual case in the September 2001 issue of the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology That article discussed a 19-year-old male with mold allergies who died of anaphylactic shock after consuming pancakes made from an outdated packaged mix in which mold spores were found.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, that the patient had specific allergies to food molds that rendered him unusually susceptible — which the email does not indicate. None of his friends who tasted the pancakes were reported to have suffered any ill effects. And while "Sue in Wynantskill" 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.

Thus, while the claim is partly true, it is overblown.

Toxic Mold in Cake Mix: Email 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We checked the date on the box of pancake mix and, to my dismay, found it was very outdated.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 can 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 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.
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!

Cake Mix Toxin Email 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 (a 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 You can check this website: 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.