JAN 19, 2017 03:21 PM PST

Moldy Sophie? Keep Calm and Clean On, Say Experts

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Sophie the Giraffe, an ever-popular children’s teething toy is under the hot seat this week as curious parents cut open the toy to discovered swaths of black mold inside the toy.  What are worried parents to do? Fortunately, health experts say to keep calm and clean on.

Famous for being French-made and produced with natural rubber rather than plastics, Sophie has been the go-to teething toy for French moms for decades.

Image: Dana ChianeseBut a few weeks ago, Dana Chianese, a pediatric dentist, was cleaning Sophie for her two sons when she noticed a strange odor coming from a hole in the toy. "I decided to cut into Sophie out of curiosity and discovered a science experiment living inside," said Chianese to Goodhousekeeping.com. "Smelly, ugly mold living in my infant's favorite chew toy!"

Chianese’s discovery went viral, as concerned parents everywhere wondered what was growing inside their child’s Sophie.

But the situation may look worse than it really is, according to health experts. According to Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, mold is everywhere. And most of the time, they’re harmless.

Dr. Saul Hymes, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at Stony Brook Medicine, agrees. “The main issue everyone gets worried about is black mold and toxic mold," said Hymes. "But mold in this sense wouldn't be something to worry about unless the kid has a major immune issue such as leukemia, cancer, [is on] chemotherapy, has had an organ transplant, or has an allergy to mold,” he said.

Because Sophie is a hollow toy with an opening, mold spores anywhere can make its way into the inside of the toy. Then, the dark and damp interior provides the ideal environment for the mold to thrive.

Importantly, Sophie may not be the only toy that is teeming with unknown microbes. "Any hollow toy that is rubber or plastic is receptive to mold growth," said Hymes. "It just happened to be that someone cut into Sophie and found it."

Admittedly, just knowing that mold isn’t unexpected inside of a toy may not quite enough to quell the worry for some parents. After all, these teething toys are meant to go into their child’s mouth. How do parents ease the worry that they’re putting their child at risk?

First, Sophie comes with very specific cleaning instructions that parents should heed. “As indicated on the packaging and in an explanatory leaflet inside the packaging, we recommend to clean the surface of Sophie la Girafe with a damp cloth. It should not be immersed in the water nor rinsed off, to prevent water from getting inside, as she may become damaged. We thus would like to emphasize on the fact that is it important, while cleaning the product, that no water gets inside the hole,” according to a spokesperson for Calisson, Sophie the Giraffe's distributor.

If no water means no mold inside Sophie, perhaps the manufacturers should consider redesigning the toy to prevent water from entering the toy’s interiors. In the mean time, some experts say that any toy that show signs of mold may be cleaned with diluted bleach or detergent and fully air dried to get rid of the mold. "Don't just use water, as that promotes mold. Use a capsule of bleach or dish soap and squeeze the toy in and out while washing," said Hymes. "Let it soak for while, and then dry out."

Additional sources: NBC News, Live Science

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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