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Sophie is the beloved rubber teething toy, almost iconic in its popularity among babies and toddlers both in her native France and in the United States. Pictures of Sophie's innards covered in mold, however, might make parents question the safety of the toy.
But is there really cause for alarm? Dr. John Carl, pediatric pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, told TODAY Parents the answer is probably not. Sophie the Giraffe toys only have one hole, placed on the underside of the giraffe, where a child is unlikely to put their mouth for very long, if at all. Therefore, he assumes that moisture — probably not saliva — is getting into the toy some other way, either by "overly diligent cleaning" by parents or by being carried into the bathwater or the pool by children instead of chewing.
Dr. Carl noted that molds are "ubiquitous in the environment, and the average mold does not result in a significant health risk," especially if it is not in a form that is easily inhaled, unless someone is immune compromised due to chemotherapy, HIV, or "a major T-cell deficiency."
"While the color of this mold is not aesthetically pleasing, it's just a pigment," Dr. Carl said. "The fact that it is black has nothing to do with its level of toxicity."
The odds of infants or toddlers chewing on the Sophie toys with their mouths directly over the holes and pressing hard enough to aerosolize the mold and squirt it directly into their mouths is virtually impossible, Dr. Carl said. "If the toy is used as directed, I think it poses very little risk," he concluded.
The American division behind Sophie, Sophie the Giraffe USA, called the mold pictures "an isolated issue, probably due to improper storage and improper care of the product."
"It’s important to know that Sophie la girafe is composed of 100 percent natural rubber, so the cleaning instructions have to be carefully respected," the company wrote TODAY Parents in a statement. "As indicated on the packaging and in an explanatory leaflet inside the packaging, we recommend to clean the surface of Sophie la girafe 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. We thus would like to emphasize on the fact that is it important, while cleaning the product, that no water gets inside the hole."
Dr. Carl confirmed that cleaning a rubber teething toy with a damp cloth would be more than sufficient to keep it sanitary for children.
"In addition, Sophie is intended for use by only one child," the company added emphatically. "We have also seen pictures of people altering the toy by cutting legs this a big NO NO!!! This is then considered damaged and unsafe. Sophie IS designed especially for the safety of your child and complies with all worldwide safety standards. Also, DON'T FORGET— THIS TOY MUST BE USED ONLY UNDER ADULT SUPERVISION."
The company said, "Please know that the safety of children and satisfaction of their parents is our main priority. For the past 55 years, we have always strived to exceed security standards and all of our products comply with the most stringent global standards."
Julie Sherman Wolfe of Valencia, California, said her son Connor, now 7, loved his Sophie. "We never noticed any mold," Wolfe told TODAY Parents, "but if I can use it as an excuse for any subsequent bad behavior, great!"