The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


Story Teller's picture
Story Teller


Greetings Everyone,

     I am a 74-year-old man, and I recently began to experiment with sourdough starter.  Actually, I never baked bread at all until last week:  I baked some bread just to use up the free flour that I received from commodity (for the first time).

     Anyway, I came across several warnings about sourdough starters:  Some claim that the starter can be deadly if not properly made or properly maintained.  If the information is correct, why have I never heard of anyone actually dying from eating bad home-made bread.

     I am scared to share my bread with my 76-year-old sister.  Please comment, I am not joking.

     Thank you,


Jeff in Trees's picture
Jeff in Trees

Hi, Story Teller!

This link may put your mind at ease:

Towards the end it mentions a few things to look for that would indicate a starter gone bad.  But chances are you'd not want to bake with something that was obviously moldy or really stinky (unless you want to try salt-rising bread, which does stink -- but it's supposed to ;) )

Happy baking!

idaveindy's picture

To keep things simple and build confidence, you might want to use commercial store-bought yeast to start out.  Fleishmann's or Red Star.  (Hint: it's much cheaper in the 4 ounce jar, than in the packets.)

That seems to be the way most home cooks start out.  I baked for years witfh regular yeast before trying a sourdough starter.  And there are plenty of free recipes on the web for regular yeast bread.  

I was worried too, when I started out, because I didn't have anyone to teach and show me in person how to do it.

DanAyo's picture

Hi StoryTeller. I am under the impression that healthy sourdough starters are self policing. The starter is filled with good and healthy bacteria. The good bacteria ward off the bad, at least that is my present understanding according to what is commonly written on the subject.

Search the web for more information.

Here’s one of those links.


Angelica Nelson's picture
Angelica Nelson

I don't think sourdough is deadly. First of all, we wouldn't have a tradition of bread making all over the world if it was.  There was no commercial yeast for thousands of years but people made bread.  After you bake the bread, the microbes are dead.  Hardly anything can handle being baked to 200 degrees F or higher. 

Think of it this way:  Raw foodists believe that you should never heat food above 110 degrees F because at that temperature, which is a bit hotter than lukewarm, and is just above the temperature of a hot tub, the enzymes are destroyed.  Some enzymes are known to survive to 140 degrees F.  Now I'm not advocating raw food-ism, I'm just using it as an example of the reasoning.  So if that's true, and the 140 degree number is from science journals, not random theory of any faddists...  then by the time you're up to 200 degrees, the finished baking temperature of gluten based bread, no enzymes are left to keep the "germs" alive.  No enzymes, no life. In gluten free baking, the finished temperature of bread would ideally be 210 degrees to set the starches and proteins as hard as possible. 

Sourdough is no more deadly, when properly made, than yogurt.  And you eat yogurt raw, and you cook the sourdough before eating.  So of the two, fear the sourdough less.

Sourdough tells you when it's off.  It starts growing fungus on the top, or goes pink, there are clear indications when it's off.  You can either start over or try and rescue it. Some people never keep a sourdough starter longer than it takes to make one loaf and then start again all new, so they make a loaf every week.  That's a bit iffy for me.  What if it doesn't turn out one week?  No bread?  I like to keep mine.

There are ways to spike the sourdough to be sure it has the right stuff, such as a tiny bit of commercial yeast and/or kefir, and/or sauerkraut, and/or a piece of cabbage leaf.  Sourdough loves onion and adding a sliver of shallots to sourdough improves it by encouraging sugar loving microbes.  Some people think this is cheating, but I bake gluten free so I say, whatever works, use it.

Home baked bread is more nutritious and I think your sister will like it, as long as it's safe for her to eat gluten.  Sourdough bread made with gluten grains is not appropriate for a person with Celiac.  I mention this because more than half of all Celiac diagnoses happen after age 50.   Enjoy baking and don't worry. Your common sense will tell you when it's off.  If ti's a matter of costly experiments, then consider that any bread you make that's not really good enough can be shredded and made into tasty pudding (which cooks it once again, making it even safer). 

Story Teller's picture
Story Teller

Greetings everyone,

     Thank you all for your quick resopnse and encouragement.  I did read warnings about the pink, red, or orange discoloration; and I also read warnings about the bad smell.  But, in spite of the warnings and claims that faulty sourdough can be deadly, I never heard of any actual case where the consumption of bad homemade bread resulted in death, not even in Bible stories..

     I suppose that bad sourdough could cause death if anyone should eat it RAW, but I don't plan on doing any such thing!


Thanks again everyone!