Penicillium mold growing on an orange (C) Daniel Friedman Mold-Related Illnesses
Mold Hazards in Foods

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Mold-related illness: aflatoxins & food mold hazards:

Here we list major outbreaks of disease, illness, deaths caused in humans and other animals due to eating moldy foods. Our page top photograph shows green and white Penicillium sp. mold growing on an orange.

History of major mold illness outbreaks . References to mold related illness key documents & Standards. What are the mold dangers in food: grains, cake mixes, fruits, cheeses, miso, drinks?

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Human & Animal Diseases Caused by Mold - A Summary of Risks, History of Mold Related Illnesses, Resources

Rhizopus sp. (C) Daniel FriedmanRecent near-panic media reports of dangerous mold in pancake mix and cake batters need to be understood with an accurate perspective on the hazards to humans or other animals from eating moldy foods. Here we provide a brief history of major mold-related-illness outbreaks and additional detail on mold toxicity associated with food products.\

[Click to enlarge any image]

People who do not have a mold allergy eat moldy food without issue - such as blue cheese; people in developing countries survive eating moldy food and fruit thrown into waste bins.

Harmless or Helpful Molds

There are plenty of molds that grow on and in foods that are harmless, and many many foods whose preparation deliberately involves the action of mold- Camembert and Roquefort cheese, Quorn microprotein, Rhizopus oligosporous used to make tempeh, Aspergillus oryzae used in the production of Miso and other soy products.

Our photo (above left) is of Rhizopus sp. -DJF

Cosmetic "black mold" has been a cause of unnecessary building "mold remediation" expense in some cases - See Recognize Cosmetic Mold

and Recognize Harmless Black Mold, and BASKETBALL MOLD SYNDROME - BBMS for examples of this problem.

Molds are also used to produce important drugs used to treat illness in humans, animals (antibiotics such as penicillin), and other molds are used in pest control applications.

A Concise History of Mold Related Illness in People & Animals

Stachybotrys chartarum (C) Daniel Friedman

Aspergillus sp (C) Daniel FriedmanOur lab photo of Aspergillus sp. (below left) was made from a tape lift surface sample of mold growing in a building -- DF.

Use Common Sense in Avoiding Moldy Food Products

A general panic about possible mold in foods would be undue, misplaced, and an exaggeration.

Mold is everywhere, all the time. We do not live and should not try to live in a "mold free" environment - mycophobia contains its own risks. It is interesting to note that the incidence of asthma was found lowest among children of farmers whose environment contained very high levels of exposure to mold and other airborne allergens.

Seeking to protect our children by placing them in a "too-clean" environment in many instances actually increases the ultimate risk to their health from subsequent exposure to common mold and bacteria against which they will have developed no resistance.

Mold Growth on Lemon Slices in Water

That mold will grow in water is no surprise, there are plenty of water-molds. But when our lab frog reported that there were greenish-gray colonies floating on water in a pitcher of un-sweetened water with a dash of lemon we took a quick look and thought - gee it's a bit slimy but it sure looks like little Aspergillus colonies.

Cladosporium growiing on dilute lemon water unsweetened Cladosporium growiing on dilute lemon water unsweetened

As Bob Tomasulo used to say with a grin, Wrong! Try again! As you can see below the fungus growing here was a species of Cladosporium - The King of Molds.

Cladosporium growiing on dilute lemon water unsweetened (C) Daniel Friedman

Mold Growth on Fresh Strawberries

Mold on strawberry (C) Daniel Friedman Mold on strawberry (C) Daniel Friedman

Photographs above: typical mold growth on fresh strawberries. At above right is the dominant fungal material, hyaline fungal hyphae.

What Are the Potential Hazards from Eating Moldy Foods? - Mold Allergies, Mycotoxins, Aflatoxins, Ochratoxins & Bacterial Hazards in Food

But we certainly agree that there are potential hazards from ingesting mold in some specific cases:

The hazards from eating moldy food are

In general, moldy feed - grains - is particularly risky (more than say fruit) due to possible presence of mycotoxins or bacterial contamination.

But it's not simply the age of a product or throwing it away based on an expiration date that describe the risk. Even a new off the shelf product, particularly grain-based, that has been improperly stored under damp conditions, could be a risk. There could be a risk from buying a new grain product that itself was made from moldy raw product - say grain stored under damp conditions - but that seems to be less likely in countries where manufacturers are well aware of the hazard.

Ergotism is extremely rare today, primarily because the normal grain cleaning and milling processes remove most of the ergot so that only very low levels of alkaloids remain in the resultant flours. In addition, the alkaloids that are the causative agents of ergotism are relatively labile and are usually destroyed during baking and cooking. - Op.Cit.

To err on the side of caution, If your cake mix, bread mix, or pancake mix or any other food product looks or smells funny or moldy, or has been stored wet or damp just throw it away.

Putting Mold Related Illness Hazards in Perspective

Risk management: there are risks associated with mold exposure; certainly any large mold reservoir in a building (more than 30 sq.ft.. contiguous non-cosmetic mold) should be removed and its cause corrected -see ACTION GUIDE - WHAT TO DO ABOUT INDOOR MOLD.

And where people are at extra risk, extra care is needed to protect them from mold exposure - see MOLD / ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERT, HIRE ? for help in deciding when conditions justify bringing in a mold expert.

But don't forget these sources of immediate life-safety risk: lack of exercise, smoking, failure to install smoke and CO alarms in your home, failure fasten your seatbelt in the car, driving while texting, and falling down the stairs.


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