News 13 Investigates: Moldy Food

“Mold, when it was peeled back, there it was, and you couldn't see it until it was open,” said mom Olivia Conner. (Photo Credit: WLOS Staff)

Spoiled, moldy food, it's more gross than dangerous, and you certainly wouldn't feed it to your child.

A News 13 Investigation reveals some parents have given it to their kids unknowingly. Now, a Marion mom wants answers.

But it's tough to know when you should throw something with a bad spot or mold out or just cut it off and eat it anyway. The answers News 13 uncovered, might surprise you.

At seven months, Presley Conner hasn't had time to perfect his poker face.

“You know he's excited when the hands and feet start twirling,” said mom Olivia Conner.

Presley's feelings about eating are written, or maybe smeared, across his face.

“He's not turned away nothing, nothing. He even likes prunes,” Conner saidwith a smile.

Presley’s favorite?

“Carrots,” said Olivia.

It's a habit his mom encourages, but a recent incident could have soured her good eater.

“Mold, when it was peeled back, there it was, and you couldn't see it until it was open,” said Conner.

This is the picture of the container taken back to the store. Olivia and her sister-in-law found mold in what they say were sealed baby food containers with a best buy date of July 2018.

“Very surprised, not expecting that in a package unopened,” said Conner.

Online nationwide images shared by parents have resulted in several voluntary recalls.

Food safety experts at N.C. State don't believe mold instances in food are increasing.

“We hear more about it because of social media and the nature of sharing information,” N.C. State food safety specialist Ben Chapman said.

According to the CDC, 48 million get sick and 3,000 die yearly from food-borne illnesses. But mold isn't a food-borne illness, like listeria or salmonella. It's just, well, gross.

“It can absolutely lead to someone having a response like vomit, mainly because it just doesn't taste good,” said Chapman.

Most mold cases aren't tracked. Chapman said pinpointing how mold occurs in a sealed package is tough.

“Your process could have been faulty, so the heating, the mixing, how we're putting those ingredients together could be a source of mold,” said Chapman.

"Everybody is literally hungry to find out more about where their food comes from,” N.C. State dairy enterprise system manager Gary Cartwright said.

Cartwright walked News 13 through the safety steps manufacturers take using N.C. State's milk packing line. Milk or baby food, most food processing has a kill process.

“Once that process takes place, we do everything possible to protect it from any post-process contamination,” said Cartwright.

Safeguards include using food-grade sanitizer on shoes to hair and beard nets for anyone entering the processing plant and industrial HEPA filters to remove items from the air inside.

“It (the product, in this case milk) stays in pumps and pipping that is completely sanitary and closed, all the way to the point of where it's packaged,” explained Cartwright.

Because milk has a short shelf life, and good bacteria is packed inside.

“It has to be refrigerated to extend that shelf life,” said Cartwright.

The shelf life for baby food and other products is longer. So, are portable packages to blame?

“Any packaging can lead to mold issues,” said Chapman.

Chapman recommends parents get “handsy” with products.

“On something like this, we see a lot of seams, so there's an opportunity in some of these thinner areas for just a small tear to allow for some air in there,” Chapman said as he looked at the food pouches’ seams.

He recommends testing package seals before they’re opened.

“As I'm opening the package, I'm trying to see if there's resistance on it, that it's popped or hasn't popped. And it takes me a second to pull that back, and, as I pull it back, it really does pop,” said Chapman.

The caps, too.

“I'll just pop this one off, you can tell when I popped it, it's clicking, that there's something there, that it didn't just open really easily,” said Chapman.

Chapman says most companies set the food safety bar higher than what's federally required.

“Companies are really aware of that, that their brands, everything that they've built up around their brand, can be thrown away with one incident,” said Chapman.

Olivia's raised her expectations and switched brands.

“I'll even go to the point, I'll taste it before it goes in his mouth because I don't want him to have anything I wouldn't have,” said Conner

All in an effort to prevent ruining Presley's appetite and keep him safe.

“I wouldn't want any baby to ingest something bad, something that shouldn't be in there,” said Conner.

The baby food company acknowledged Olivia's incident and called it isolated.

Here’s their full statement:

“The quality and safety of our foods, and baby’s health and well-being are our number one priorities. We are aware of this parent’s report and take all complaints very seriously. We have checked on this batch and it appears to be an isolated incident, as no similar incidents for this batch have been reported to us at this time. We have in place rigorous food quality and safety controls, including numerous quality checks from farm to highchair. All our teams follow strict safety protocols and practices but it is possible, however; for mold to occur when the packaging around the product is compromised after it leaves one of our facilities. We do everything possible to ship our baby food extra carefully so it isn’t harmed when being shipped from our kitchen to grocery shelves. As parents too, we know you think about every bite your baby takes, and so do we. If you have any questions, please call us—day or night—at 1-800-4-GERBER. We are here for you.”

Keep it or toss it?

So, what should you do with something that's molded -- trim the bad part out or toss it? Here’s what the USDA recommends:

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