Monday, September 9, 2013


Can mold in food make you sick? The answer is "yes." But it doesn't happen all the time. Most molds in food are harmless, except perhaps to people who are very allergic. But then there are those other nasty molds, or, more correctly called "fungi," that can produce very bad toxins called "mycotoxins" with interesting names like "aflatoxin," "fumonisin," "vomitoxin," "zealareno," and "ochratoxin." Even they don't do it all the time. Just sometimes, when the conditions are right (think, "warm and moist"). There are about 300 of these different types of toxins, and more are being discovered all the time. Overall, we know very little about the dangers of mold in food.

So let's turn to mold in relation to Chobani Yogurt. That SO fashionable Chobani Greek Yogurt seems to have come down with a bad case of gas, with some containers swelling, fizzing, leaking, or even exploding. This has prompted a large recall of its products, and lead to a lot of bad publicity and loss of credibility.

I have always been a great admirer of the very clever marketing job done by Chobani. Eating its products is not only guaranteed to be healthy, but a socially rewarding activity. This unlucky recent event will certainly test its fan club in spite of all the efforts made to repair the damage to its image.

The cause of all this gas and bloating in the yogurt, has been identified as a mold called Mucor circinelloides. This mold is often present in the environment and can turn up in dairy, and on fruits and vegetables. So is it one of the "bad" molds?

True, the fungus has been known to occasionally cause rather nasty skin (and even tooth) infections. But the company claims, quoting one expert source, that this mold has never been associated with causing food borne illness and that the mold is therefore totally harmless in its yogurt. So why are all these Chobani yogurt eaters saying it made them ill? Are they just imagining it?

At this point we don't know. But, not so fast Chobani. Let me remind you of a few things. First, the cause of most food borne illness is never identified, and molds are not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when investigators are looking for a cause. Secondly, bacteria, viruses, molds and other organisms, keep evolving and changing, and there is no guarantee that a mold which has not been identified as producing deadly toxins, will not be later found to produce them. Thirdly, moldy foods often have bacteria growing alongside them. I wonder whether, having found the mold to be present, researchers stopped looking for another, possibly bacterial, contaminant. We may never know.

So, when it comes to food borne illness, never say "never."

To your good health,

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