Just in time for the 2012 Global Food Safety Conference, we see issues with moldy juice and Capri Sun back on the rise. Almost two years ago, we told you about Melissa, the mom who found a glob of fleshy mold in her child’s Capri Sun. Today, we’re still hearing stories and concerns about “unpleasant” drink surprises.
Right now, you can go on to the Kraft’s Capri Sun Facebook Page and find chatter about mold in juice drinks; and a few months ago, Budget Savvy Diva showed us a photo of what looked like a slug or caterpillar in a Capri Sun drink that reignited the conversation.
MOLD OR NOT MOLD?
Following up, we sent the picture and some information to Humboldt State University’s Biology Department to see if they could identify what was in the drink.
Anthony Baker, Biology Core facilities Manager, gave us a hand along with Microbiology Supervisor Andrea Yip. They conducted an experiment on Capri Sun evaluating a few conditions which may be favorable for mold (fungal) growth. Kraft previously confirmed that mold could grow in the preservative-free juice and identified it as Paecilomyces variotii, just as other indpendent tests did. While Paecilomyces sp. are common environmental fungi, these represent only one of many possible contaminants. We wanted to see exactly how easily contamination could occur.
“I got involved because the general public tends to overreact [when it comes to moldy food],” Baker said in an interview with the University’s student newspaper. “People forget about things like vinegar, beer and all these compounds that are generated from living organisms. There’s a lot of things in our food you probably don’t want to know are there.”
Baker used Capri Sun 100% Juice: Fruit Punch in an experiment that varied the juice’s exposure to heat and air. After a month, the packages were opened and the juice was checked for visible cloudiness or growth. The experiment was designed to mimic what could happen to juice in compromised and uncompromised packaging during transport or storage.
The results of the experiment show that most pouches punctured with a 22-guage syringe, creating a small pin hole leak and allowing air into the
packaging, grew some form of fungi after four weeks. Pouches that were also heated to 50 degrees Celsius (122 F) , about the temperature inside a car on a
sunny day, produced larger mold forms Pouches that were not punctured produced no visible growth or “turbidity” (murkiness caused by sediment) even when heated.
The results suggest that in the presence of air, fungi will grow and higher temperatures may improve growth rates. Also, it appears that a very noticeable amount of growth can occur in just about a month with air exchange occurring through a small hole in the packaging. A small hole could result from accidents during transport, storage, or other handling.
“Everyone was kind of like, ‘Well, of course things are going to grow,’” said Baker. “Nobody expected the kind of growth that we saw, and nobody expected to see variation.”
Baker admitted the sample size was small and said he could likely reproduce the same results on most other fruit juice, not just Capri Sun. While he wasn’t able to confirm the identity of the fungi, he did clearly observe different forms of mold.
Right now, food allergies are on the rise and so is the number of recalls that result out of concern for people who have them. We typically see these recalls stemming from incorrectly labeled packages.
RISKS AND QUESTIONS
Arthur Lubitz, an allergy doctor in New York City, said mold in juice is “potentially dangerous in an immune-deficient patient,” like those who have severe allergies. Lubitz acknowledged that he wasn’t aware of much disease that can result from fruit juice, but said as a general rule, food should be mold-free, especially if that mold can give off toxins. Some toxins from mold are known to be cancer-causing.
While the safety of consuming mold is a question for your doctor, we also have to leave you hanging when it comes to the recall side of the story.
In all of the documented instances, Kraft said the mold was related to an isolated issue with damaged packaging and not to a system-wide or lot-wide issue that they could announce a recall for. Our small experiment conducted at Humboldt State University seems to support that. None of the unopened packages grew mold; only ones that were exposed to air. Consumers repeatedly ask Kraft for clear pouches so they can see globs of mold before drinking the juice, but exposure to light could ruin the preservative-free juice.
So where does that leave consumers? Probably with a lot of questions. Kraft is pretty good at getting back to comments left on their Capri Sun Facebook page, and you know we’ll get back to any question you send our way.
See one consumer’s reaction to finding mold in their juice: