Warnings About Expired Cake Mix-Truth! & Misleading!
Summary of eRumor:
A new version of an old Internet legend that expired cake mix can be fatal has been making its way into email inboxes.
Expired cake mixes can be fatal for those who have allergies to mold or penicillin, but the dangers of expired cake mix have been greatly exaggerated in these warnings.
Warning about expired cake mixes have been in circulation for more than a decade. Most often, a chain email urges people to rush home and throw out every box of cake mix that has passed its expiration date because it could be toxic, and even deadly. Then the email cites an example of a young man or boy who died or nearly died after eating moldy, expired pancake mix.
A version of the cake mix warning making the rounds in early 2015 told the story of a high school student whose mother made him pancakes before dropping him off at school. A short time later he allegedly had trouble breathing and nearly died as paramedics rushed him to the hospital. Due to lack of details — like the name of the high school or student — we couldn’t verify the details in that story.
TruthorFiction.com investigated another account of expired pancake mix nearly leading to the death of a 14-year-old boy that appeared in an April 2006 “Dear Abby” column. We weren’t able to verify the authenticity of that story, either, but the details are almost exactly the same.
Still, there’s at least one verifiable account of a 19-year-old man dying from an allergic reaction after eating an expired box of pancake mix. That account was published in the American Journal of Forensic Medical Pathology in 2001:
One morning, he and his friends made pancakes with a packaged mix that had been opened and in the cabinet for approximately 2 years. The friends stopped eating the pancakes because they said that they tasted like “rubbing alcohol.” The decedent continued to eat the pancakes and suddenly became short of breath. He was taken to a nearby clinic, where he became unresponsive and died. At autopsy, laryngeal edema and hyperinflated lungs with mucous plugging were identified. Microscopically, edema and numerous degranulating mast cells were identified in the larynx. The smaller airways contained mucus, and findings of chronic asthma were noted. Serum tryptase was elevated at 14.0 ng/ml. The pancake mix was analyzed and found to contain a total mold count of 700/g of mix as follows: Penicillium, Fusarium, Mucor, and Aspergillus. Witness statements indicate that the decedent ate two pancakes; thus he consumed an approximate mold count of 21,000. The decedent had a history of allergies to molds and penicillin, and thus was allergic to the molds in the pancake mix. The authors present this unusual case of anaphylaxis and a review of the literature.
Pathologists who wrote the article called the man’s death an “unusual case of anaphylaxis.” But still, there has been at least one death from exposure to mold in an expired cake mix.
Duncan Hines, the maker of various box mixes, has responded directly to the cake mix warning:
Due to consumer inquiries regarding mold developing in expired mixes, we would like to assure you that there is no concern with products manufactured by Pinnacle Foods Group LLC. We place a “BEST BY” date on the packaging to ensure product quality in terms of appearance, texture and taste of the finished item. There is no food safety concern in using Duncan Hines cake mixes beyond their “BEST BY” dates. We do recommend that Duncan Hines® products be kept in a cool, dry place. In general, protecting mixes from moisture will prevent mold growth.
The Gourmet Sleuth suggests storing boxed cake mix at pantry temperature for no more than six to nine months. After that point, the cake mix should be frozen or thrown out.
So, it’s true that mold found in expired cake mixes can be toxic and even fatal for those with extreme allergies to mold. However, the cake mix warning is also misleading because it exaggerates the risk that expired cake mix poses.