Myth Blaster: The Case of the the Toxic Pancakes

Tara M, Wisconsin sent an email and suggested that this makes a good notation for Myth Blaster …

BerryPancakeI 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, he 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 We checked the date on the box of pancake mix and, to my dismay, found it was very outdated.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just that, and found an article the next day that mentioned a 19-year-old male dying after eating pancakes made with outdated mix.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 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. Also, beware of outdated Bisquick, cake, brownie and cookie mixes.

The email then references the following source:
The email didn’t mention that this story originated in a Dear Abby column in an April 2006 submitted by Sue in Wantskill,[sic] N.Y. Abby’s reply:
Thank you for the warning. I certainly wasn’t 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. …
And, of course, the email sent to Tara had a Snopes (Urban Legends) link, which reads, in part:

… There is truth in this tale. Yet its inherent warning is overblown.
While we cannot vet the incident described by “Sue in Wyantskill”
 [sic] involving her 14-year-old son, the underlying claim is demonstrably true …
In 2001, two pathologists practicing in Charleston, South Carolina, reported an unnamed 19-year-old who died in such a manner. … The cause of his death was determined to be anaphylaxis due to an allergic reaction to molds. … The pancake mix that delivered a toxic payload was analyzed and found to contain four rather nasty molds: Penicillium, Fusarium, Mucor, and Aspergillus. …
It needs to be kept in mind there is noting inherently toxic about pancake mix that has passed its freshness date, the product’s getting old 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. 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 been 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 sensitivity, you shouldn’t keep your flapjack makings around for a few years opening the box or pouch it came in. …

Myth Blaster Verdict
Of course, I agree with Snopes findings and add that there are many food pouches and packets that the military and civil defense folks use in case of some kind of emergency and they all recommend to replace them if the package is damaged and if they expiration date has come and gone. In all my born days I have never heard of anyone keeping an opened box of pancake mix (or any other type of mix) sitting in their pantry for years, or even months. And those that are in to keeping an emergency food supply for survival reasons et cetera, rotate their stock by using and replacing the emergency supply just before the expiration date arrives.
And the gist of what Snopes writes is that one should use caution, but do not become panicked over the tale of the 14-year-old and the verified story of the 19-year-old with allergies. Just with many things – use common sense. There is truth to it, but some email embellishes upon the original causing the situation to become “overblown”.
Thanks Tara for this submission.