Fans of the delicious and nutritious German drink brand Capri Sun look away now. A microbiologist has found that the price we pay for preservative-free deliciousness comes in the shape of five nasty-looking fungi.
This is by no means the first time Capri Sun has had some explaining to. Over the years, various reports have surfaced of strange and unusual objects lurking instead its foil pouches. In June 2010 one concerned parent found a type of “foul smelling” object in a Capri Sun Apple Splash, in May 2011 a man from Texas identified what he assumed was a worm in his drink and in 2012 reports of another woman and a black particle covered glob surfaced. On all occasions -- all of which were in the US -- manufacturers Kraft Foods blamed it on mold.
Since the drink is free from preservatives, if one of the airtight containers gets even a tiniest pinprick, oxygen could feed any spores already inside. Even before getting samples to the lab, Kraft has in the past blamed this issue on something similar to "common bread mold". This happens a lot to poor Kraft Foods, so it tends to preempt complaints. In a statement released earlier this year over yet another sighting, the company said: "If mold does occur, we completely agree that it can be unsightly and gross, but it is not harmful and is more of a quality issue rather than a safety issue."
Intrigued by the ruckus, Kathleen Dannelly, associate professor of microbiology at Indiana State University, decided to investigate the curious case of the Capri Sun mold. A news station had brought Dannelly a sample after a concerned parent contacted them, and Dannelly confirmed it was fungal mat. She was hooked.
With the help of biology student Leah Horn, the pair spent a year pouring Capri Sun juice through a vacuum filter to collect any microbes. They found not one bog-standard bread mold, but five so far unidentifiable fungi -- three from Tropical Punch, one from Roarin' Waters and one from Fruit Punch.
"They are all five different species," Horn said in a statement. "We're not 100 percent sure which ones they are. We're still testing." Aside from the sheer revulsion many might feel after pulling a fungal mat from the their refreshing drink, Danelly says the substances are "probably" not harmful, but adds: "In patients who are immune-compromised and some other underlying diseases, this could create a health concern for them."
She agrees with Capri Sun that the growth is most likely the result of a tiny hole in a packet: "Maybe what happens is that the package just gets breached enough, not a big hole, a tiny pin hole that's enough to let air and oxygen in so that gives fungi room to grow, what they need to grow, then you get fungal mats. Maybe that's why it's only occasionally there's the large growth of an organism."
To verify the theory, she and Horn plan on puncturing packets, testing for spores, then seeing if a mat forms. It's likely the spores are already there, because of the lack of preservatives.
A Kraft Foods representative told Wired.co.uk: "Since there are no preservatives in our drinks, mold can grow in a pouch that has been damaged or punctured. That's why we placed a statement on the carton recommending leaky pouches be discarded. Among the many millions of pouches we produce a year, it is a rare occurrence. But if it does happen, we want to hear about it.
"The reality is, mold spores are literally everywhere. That's why most foods, especially those without preservatives, eventually spoil and get moldy. Our quality controls are designed to minimize this exposure. No system is perfect though, so we regularly review and improve our quality control procedures."