True Or False: Are Old Cake Mixes Deadly?

Mixing batter. Making yeast pancakes (crepes).

The internet is a great and dangerous place for information.  Things you read online can honestly help prolong or save a life and other things you read could be total lies.  For example there is a story about how a woman writes a letter to a publication warning everyone of the dangers of expired pancake and cake mixes. She warns that they can be deadly to the human body.

Here’s the truth:

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 to this story, yet its the warning is a little bit deceiving. In a nutshell, expired 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.

But, the underlying claim is very true: it is possible for someone who eats 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.

How can this happen? It happened before.

According to Snopes, 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), ate two pancakes made from a packaged mix that had sat open in a kitchen cabinet for about two years. His two friends stopped eating their portions, complaining that the griddlecakes tasted like rubbing alcohol.

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Very quickly thereafter, while watching television, the college student 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.

Keep 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. Only those who have allergies to mold are at risk, and even…

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