A Pennsylvania man found a box of snack cakes he'd stocked away when Hostess filed for bankruptcy in 2012, providing researchers with an enlightening opportunity.

By Jelisa Castrodale
October 16, 2020
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In early 2012, Hostess Brands put together the paperwork for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. Several months later, its workers went on strike and Hostess' then-owners opted to liquidate the entire company, closing its plants and sending more than 18,000 workers home for good. 

Fans of the brand's signature snacks, like Twinkies, Ding Dongs, and Zingers, started to worry that they wouldn't be able to get their favorite sugar fixes, so they cleared supermarket shelves of everything that was wearing Hostess' red, white, and blue logo. 

Colin Purrington, a self-described "science fan" from Pennsylvania, was one of those people. He bought some Twinkies for what he called "future giggles," and they stayed in his basement until a couple of weeks ago when he carried his Obama-era snacks upstairs and opened the box. 

And, for whatever reason, he decided to eat one. "Although I grew up thinking Twinkies would last for years, if not forever, I was wrong," he tweeted afterward. "The one I bit into was chewy, unsweet, and smelled like rotting ginkgo fruit. I gagged. I have nobody to blame but myself—the box clearly warned, 'Best Used by Nov 26th' (2012)." 

In a gloriously disgusting Twitter thread, Purrington described the state of the other Twinkies. The filling inside one specimen had dried and turned an unappetizing beige color. Another was "hosting an organism of some sort." And a third had shriveled inside its plastic packaging, constricting itself into a shriveled brown… wad? Is that the right word?

According to NPR, two West Virginia University scientists scrolled past Purrington's gross pictures, and they knew they wanted to get their hands on those Twinkies—especially the nasty wrinkled one. Brian Lovett, a postdoctoral researcher, and Matthew Kasson, an Associate Professor of Forest Pathology, were quite curious about what kind of fungi might have developed on the Twinkies, and what kind of environment might've been inside its wrapper.

"You end up with a vacuum [inside the package]," Lovett told the outlet. "And very well that vacuum may have halted the fungus's ability to continue to grow. We just have the snapshot of what we were sent, but who knows if this process occurred five years ago and he just only noticed it now."

They took samples from the different Twinkies—from the withered one, the one that had developed mold, and from a kind-of normal looking one—and put them in lab dishes to see what might grow. The moldy Twinkie eventually yielded a strain of an "airborne, indoor mold called Cladosporium," but the samples from most desiccated dessert haven't grown anything yet. 

"It may be that we don't have any living spores despite this wonderful, rare event that we've witnessed," Lovett said. "Spores certainly die, and depending on the fungus, they can die very quickly."

When Twinkies first appeared on supermarket shelves in the 1930s, their shelf-life was just two short days. "Twinkies were traditionally made with real ingredients including eggs, milk, and butter," Mashed explained. "Since it wasn't an artificially processed food, this sponge cake needed to be eaten like the real cake you make at home, otherwise it would expire."

When Hostess closed up shop in 2012, Twinkies reportedly lasted for 26 days, but when the company came back less than a year later, their lifespans had been extended to 45 days. Here's where we feel obligated to point out that 45 days is significantly shorter than eight years.

Maybe that's why it just took Purrington one bite to learn a valuable lesson. "My advice to the world: if you discover 8-year-old baked goods in your basement, examine them carefully under bright lights before eating them," he tweeted. "I don't care how hungry you are."