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Mix Master

Claim:   Old baking mixes are dangerous.

MIXTURE OF TRUE AND FALSE INFORMATION:

TRUE: Pancake and cake mixes that contain mold can cause life-threatening allergic reactions.
 
FALSE: Pancake and cake mixes that have passed their expirations dates are toxic.
 
FALSE: The yeast in packaged baking products "over time develops spores."

Examples:

[Dear Abby, 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We checked the date on the box of pancake mix and, to my dismay, found it was very outdated.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just that, and found an article the next day that mentioned a 19-year-old male DYING after eating pancakes made with outdated mix.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!
 

[Collected via e-mail, February 2011]

With so many people scratching the bottom of the pocket and of course the pantry shelves.... be aware of the warning given below! I always thought that "old" mixes that were past their expiration date would just not rise/bake correctly. This is scary!

Somebody wrote: Before my surgery I bought quite a few Duncan Hines cakes mixes that were on sale. A couple of months ago I decide to use one, I checked the expiration date and found it past, all the boxes were passed the expiration date. I phoned Duncan Hinds to ask if the one that was only two months passed if it was OK. She told me in no uncertain words to throw them all out, she even said to open the boxes and throw the mix in the garbage, just in case someone picked it up and used it.

Cake Mixes & Toxins- **PLEASE READ** Pass this on to ALL in your address book. You never know whose life you may save by doing so. For those of you at work, PLEASE remember to check your cupboards when you get home tonight!!!

This is confirmed on Snopes :
http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/pancake.asp

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, brownie mixes, Bisquick, cake & cookie mixes, etc., you have in your home.

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

P.P.S. This warning especially applies to any person(s) with mold allergies.
 

Origins:   In April 2006, the experience of a 14-year-old who had eaten pancakes made from a mix that had gone moldy was described in the popular newspaper column Dear Abby. The account has since been circulated widely on the Internet as scores of concerned homemakers ponder the safety of the pancake and other baking mixes lurking in their larders.

There is truth in this tale, yet its inherent warning is overblown. In a nutshell, staledated pancake and other baking mixes pose no danger to you unless:
  • You are allergic to mold
  • The baking mix was not contained in an unbleached wax paper, plastic, or a foil pouch within its outer packaging
How old the mix is has no bearing on its safety — a mix that is well within its freshness date yet has come to contain mold spores could prove fatal to someone with a mold allergy, while one that is a year or two beyond its "Best use by" date but did not contain mold spores would be perfectly safe.

While we cannot vet the incident described by "Sue in Wyantskill" involving her 14-year-old son, the underlying claim is demonstrably true — it is possible for someone who chows down on pancakes made from a mix that has sat around too long to suffer a potentially fatal anaphylactic reaction to the molds that have grown therein. We know this to be so because it has happened before, and the resultant death was documented.

In 2001, two pathologists practicing in Charleston, South Carolina, reported on an unnamed 19-year-old who died in such a manner. While home on vacation from college, the victim, a young man with a history of allergies (including mold), polished off two pancakes
made from a packaged mix that had sat open in a kitchen cabinet for about two years — even though his two friends stopped eating their portions, complaining that the griddlecakes tasted like rubbing alcohol. Very quickly thereafter, while watching television, the ill-fated collegian experienced shortness of breath that was not relieved by his inhaler. He asked his friends to take him to a clinic not far from the home, and he was reported to have turned a bit blue from lack of oxygen (i.e., became cyanotic) during the ride. While he did manage to walk into the clinic on his own, once inside he suddenly collapsed in cardiopulmonary arrest. He failed to respond to resuscitative efforts and was pronounced dead.

The cause of his death was determined to be anaphylaxis due to an allergic reaction to molds.

Anaphylaxis is a rapidly developing immunologic reaction that occurs when those who have allergies come in contact with the substances they are allergic to. When it kills, it does so by triggering fatal respiratory or cardiac arrest.

The pancake mix that delivered a toxic payload was analyzed and found to contain four rather nasty molds: Penicillium, Fusarium, Mucor, and Aspergillus. The decedent had not been allergic to eggs (which are a component of pancakes), so there was no doubt as to which allergy had killed him. It had been mold, and nothing but.

There was a death, and it had been due to ancient pancake mix. Or, rather, to an allergic reaction to the mold that had grown in the stale pancake mix.

It needs be kept in mind there is nothing inherently toxic about pancake mix that has passed its freshness date; the product's aging does not transform it into a poison, nor does the growth of mold within opened boxes of flapjack powder turn it into something that will fell all who ingest it. Only those who have allergies to mold are at risk, and even then, for the pancake mix to pose a hazard it has to contain mold spores, not just be over the hill.

In October 2008 the pancake mix warning was expanded to include cake, biscuit, and brownie mixes.
I am sure this would apply to all pkg. baking goods and cereals.

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.

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.
Unlike what the e-mailed caution would have folks believe, there is nothing magical about yeast which causes it to "over time develop spores."

For mold to gain access to a food product, the foodstuff has to be exposed to its spores. Pancake mix cocooned in an unbleached wax paper, plastic, or a foil pouch within its outer packaging wouldn't have this contact and should still be safe no matter how old it gets. However, mix sold unpouched in cardboard boxes or paper sacks would likely be at risk even if the box or sack hadn't previously been opened, because such packaging would not necessarily keep dampness out, and mold thrives in damp environments.

What does all this mean? If you don't have a mold allergy, you needn't fear your pancake mix; if you do have such a sensitivity, you shouldn't keep your flapjack makings around for a few years after opening the box or pouch it came in. It's not worth dying over 50¢ worth of pancake mix, so when in doubt, throw it out.

Barbara "better to pitch the crepe than to hang it" Mikkelson

Last updated:   24 March 2013

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Sources:

    Bennett, Allan and Kim Collins.   "An Unusual Case of Anaphylaxis: Mold in Pancake Mix."
    American Journal of Forensic Medicine & Pathology.   September 2001   (pp. 292-295).

    Phillips, Jeanne.   "Dear Abby."
    14 April 2006   [syndicated column].