For the second time in about as many years, a product made for young children has been shown to breed mold.
Sophie the Giraffe, a teething toy designed for children 18 months and under, is the latest item geared toward babies that is under fire by parents who discovered mold inside the toy’s cavity.
Last year, sippy cups made by Tommee Tippee were in the spotlight when some parents uncovered mold growing in the cup’s valve.
The issue of mold involving Sophie the Giraffe was first reported in Good Housekeeping. Pediatric dentist Dana Chianese was washing her child’s toy when she noticed an odd smell coming from the hole at the bottom.
“I decided to cut into Sophie out of curiosity and discovered a science experiment living inside,” Chianese told the magazine. “Smelly, ugly mold living in my infant's favorite chew toy.”
Pediatricians weigh in
Healthline turned to pediatricians at two of the country’s top children's hospitals to get their take on the issue of mold growing inside toys.
One was Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, M.P.H., environmental health specialist at Seattle Children's Research Institute and an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health.
The other was Nicholas Newman, D.O., M.S., F.A.A.P., assistant professor of pediatrics and environmental health at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
We asked them what makes mold grow on the inside of toys, why the issue continues to pop up, and what parents can and should do about it.
The good news, the pediatricians said, is occasional exposure to mold isn’t as harmful as parents may think.
The bad news is some toys and products designed for kids are a perfect breeding ground for the organism to grow.
“Mold grows anywhere there is moisture and a carbon source,” Newman said. “It doesn’t surprise me that it would grow inside a kid’s toy.”
Sathyanarayana said this isn’t the first time mold has been known to grow inside a toy, and it likely won’t be the last.
“This is not new,” she said. “There are probably other toys that have the same problem, but we just don’t know about them.”
As with Tommee Tippee sippy cups, parents who discovered mold inside Sophie the Giraffe have turned to social media to express their dismay.
Good Housekeeping said other parents have posted concerns about the toy on Amazon and other websites.
Sophie the Giraffe has been around for decades.
The toy, made from natural rubber and decorated with plant-based paint, is manufactured by the French company Vulli.
A spokesperson for the company told Good Housekeeping in a statement that the package instructions state that Sophie the Giraffe should only be cleaned on the surface 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,” the statement read.
Mold is a natural thing
Mold, while unpleasant to look at and smell, is everywhere, according to Newman.
Any attempt to fully eradicate it from our children’s toys, let alone our lives, is futile.
“Mold is how nature tries to recycle everything,” he said. “It’s the normal recycling process.”
What’s more, mold thrives in damp environments.
Children’s toys, particularly those that are hollow and have the capacity for moisture to collect on the inside through tiny vents or holes, set up the perfect conditions for mold to grow.
However, most people don’t become sick if they accidentally ingest mold, Newman said. Although people with comprised immune systems such as people with cancer or HIV may show signs of gastrointestinal issues once they consume mold.
The bigger concern, when it comes to children and mold, is not ingestion but inhalation, said Sathyanarayana.
“Mold reacts with cells in the lungs and can lead to issues,” she said. “Runny nose, cough, things like that.”
Sathyanarayana noted that a “child that has asthma, allergies, or eczema,” may have some risks if mold is inhaled.
“Those are the kids most likely to be affected,” she said.
The best defense against the development of mold inside your child’s favorite toy is to follow use and cleaning instructions, Sathyanarayana noted.
“Really pay attention to instructions,” she said. “Use [toys] only as indicated.”
Sathyanarayana suspects that some parents are bringing the toy into the tub.
But Newman said even if that isn’t the case, cleaning the product with soap and water sets up the right chemistry for mold to grow.
“Soap is a carbon source,” he said. “The mold sees that and goes, ‘Oh good, yum.’”
Sathyanarayana noted that if parents do discover mold inside any of their child’s toys, they should make an effort to clear it out.
“If you see mold, a little bleach and water can help remove some of it,” she said.
Nikki Fleming, spokesperson from the Consumer Product Safety Commission said parents are welcome to report safety concerns about any toys at saferproducts.gov, or call the toll free hotline at 800-638-2772.
“We want to hear from consumers,” she told Healthline.
Vulli has not made any further announcements regarding its toy. Tommee Tippee voluntarily recalled six of its cups on January 10 because of the faulty valve.
While moldy toys are of great concern for parents, Sathyanarayana said people should be just as vigilant when looking for mold in their homes or offices. Particularly if you live in damp cities, such as Seattle.
“I’d actually be more concerned about proper ventilation in homes — bathrooms and basements,” she said, “than Sophie the Giraffe."