in Extra Matter

Mouldy salt

It’s a scary headline alright:

Mold contamination in sea salts could potentially spoil food

I checked the press release, and yes, sea salts contained spores of some moulds that could conceivably result in food spoilage. A couple of things worried me though. Do other salts, and even the much vaunted kosher salt, also contain mould spores? And, although the spores are there, do they cause spoilage? I mean, if you swabbed my hands right now you might find potentially harmful bacteria, but are they actually going to make me ill? Probably not.

So I looked at the full paper. The first thing that struck me was that the one salt that isn’t made by evaporating sea water now, Himalayan salt — “labeled as a sea salt when in fact it was mined from an ancient sea salt deposit” — had by far the lowest level of fungal spores. So maybe “ordinary” salt would be similarly uncontaminated.

Sea salt may have contributed to food spoilage in cured meats before now, and the paper also identified some fungal species that produce toxins. Overall, through, there’s nothing in the paper to suggest why we should be more worried about sea salt than other kinds of salt.

I’m waiting to see the follow-up, where researchers use different salts to preserve meat or vegetables, taking all the usual precautions, to see whether the fungi survive once fermentation really gets going.

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