The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Sick (ropey) Starters?

_amndd's picture

Sick (ropey) Starters?

Hi all! First time posting, but just wanted to say a quick thankyou to everyone for existing; this forum has been my “bible” for the 6 months I’ve been obsessively making bread. You’re all legends!

Also, sorry in advance for the length of this post - I will try to cover as many bases as possible with a lack of photographic evidence. None of the photos of my starters do justice to the slimy stringy mess I’m faced with.

To the matter in question; I had what I believe to be a rope outbreak, which started last week in my fridge on my most recent/last sourdough loaf. There was no denying what this was - “suddenly” tacky crust, dull/rancid flavour, and the early stages of those telltale sticky “threads” that resemble snail slime. I checked in with my Mum, who also had a loaf from the same batch, and it was starting to show signs as well.

So we both “acid washed” our kitchens (with entire 2L jugs of vinegar) to hopefully nuke the outbreak and spread to other foodstuffs - a pot of cream in my fridge had been “cultured” with a lovely/disgusting white foam, barely a day after I opened it. It was clear that whatever this bacteria was/is (Bacillus, I believe), it had a real affinity for lactic and starchy foods, and I wasn’t too keen on pitching my entire stock of cheese, along with my entire stock of bread I’d thrown in the bin (carbs and dairy are my lifeblood). I even went so far as to smear vinegar on the lids all of my flour containers, to hopefully create a barrier against any further spread.

Beyond this outbreak mitigation, I’ve been at a loss as to the actual source of the bug; a wedge of Pecorino, a lemon that went green and fuzzy very suddenly, and a Hokkaido Milk Loaf/experiment made with egg, are all possible suspects. Needless to say, all are now safely residing in my local council tip.

Now, I have two, up-until-now very healthy and veracious starters, each around 4 months old. One is 90:10 AP:WW, the other is 60:30:10 Spelt:WW:Rye. Both are maintained at 100% hydration with filtered H2O, and fed 1:3 on the same schedule every 12 hours. The only reason I keep both running is purely for flavour and sentiment at this stage, since they’re equally reliable in performance. But I’ve found using both in equal quantities to be the golden blend for any loaf/pizza I make.

However, not long after the fridge outbreak, my starters started (lol) to show signs of ropiness as well. I have done as much research as possible into rope spoilage in starters, only to find a bunch of articles saying that wild yeast cultures were, in fact, an effective method of control. Reading around here about sick starters, I dropped the hydration if both back to 66% and started “spiking” the water with 5% apple cider vinegar for the past 4 days, along with changing to a clean jar every feed (I normally only clean their jars once a week at most) while maintaining the ratio and schedule... no avail!

Both are still riddled with stringy, slimy yuck, despite finally starting to smell a little less like rancid pork (noticed that on the first infected loaf). Although they’re as strong as ever, I’m exhausted by my germaphobic daily vinegar-cleansing procedure, and the prospect that I’m extending the lifespan of this cunning Bacillus by maintaining the lifespan of these starters - the irony of this situation in the midst of COVID is not lost on me.

So to finally pose the question; should I keep my babies alive, or send them to the sewer/start a starter over again? Also, tips for wiping out any remaining Bacillus would be greatly appreciated!

Also, re details about the flours; the whites are a blend of Caputo AP(Blue) and Cuoco(Red), the other Whole Grain flours are organic and/or stoneground from either Kialla Milling or “Chef’s Choice” (Australian brands).



KeilidhC's picture

I have never heard of rope before - it sounds horrendous! I looked it up and found this thread: You may have already seen it, but if you haven't it might help you to wipe out any lurking bacteria. I can't really offer any help with your starters - I'm pretty new to sourdough in general and have no experience with rope, so a more experienced member will be able to give you more solid advice. Really hoping that you'll be able to save your babies, but it looks like rope is pretty difficult to get rid of once it sets in. 

Good luck with the rope-busting!