We have all been there. We open up the refrigerator hoping to steal a taste or two from the delicious leftovers stored there a few nights prior. However, as we inspect the target of our hunger a little closer, we notice a spot of mold on it and our genuine hope turns to bitter despair. But wait a minute, what if I just carve around that piece of mold and eat the portion of the food that doesn’t appear to be affected by it.
Can I do that? Is that safe? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is not very clear cut, and the truth of the matter is that it really depends on what type of food we are talking about.
To help bring some clarity to this subject, below we will discuss the potential dangers associated with mold on some types of food. We have also included sections on “the types of food you should NEVER eat when you spot any kind of formation of mold, and the foods on which mold is usually no big deal, and therefore safe to eat.
The Dangers of Eating Moldy Food
Eating mold (a fungus) – on some foods – can be very dangerous to some individuals, with those having mold allergies being the most susceptible. That being said, there are thousands of people, mostly in developing countries, that eat moldy food every day with no negative consequences, but it must also be noted that many of them also get very sick from this practice – and some even die.
The first recorded dangers of eating moldy food can be traced back to the year 857AD in the Rhine Valley, when thousands of residents died from the consumption of infected rye, most of whom were children.
The primary reason why some moldy foods are dangerous is because those foods are likely to be contaminated with mycotoxins – a fancy word for fungal poisons. Fortunately for us, the molds that produce toxins require certain growth conditions to produce those toxins. Because of this, the presence of mold on these foods does not always mean the food contains mycotoxins.
When part of a food does contain mycotoxins, poisoning can occur through ingestion of those toxins or sometimes even through direct contact. The effect of poisoning by mycotoxins is called mycotoxicoses, which can make people extremely sick and can even be fatal if not treated early.
And don’t forget to keep moldy food out of reach of any pets, especially dogs, who are known for their opportunistic scavenging of leftovers! Gone off food can be equally fatal for dogs so make sure you keep it well out of reach. You may even need to invest in a dog proof trash can if you have a particularly persistent food thief!
Also important to note is that when some types of food begin to turn bad there are other food-borne illnesses that can befall an unlucky target – illnesses other than mycotoxicoses. Certain bacteria can lead to a high risk of food poisoning, and that bacteria includes Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter and Listeria monocytogenes, among others.
Foods NOT to Eat When Moldy
There are many foods you should never eat if they are moldy. In fact, you should probably throw them away and wash your hands just to be on the safe side. Some of these foods include:
Lunch meats – like ham, turkey, beef, pastrami, and others
Hot dogs – whether they are beef, pork, chicken or turkey dogs
Bacon – pork bacon, turkey bacon, etc.
Leftovers – any cooked leftover dishes you have made that contain a spot of mold should be thrown out immediately. This includes pastas, casseroles, meats, grains, rice, and more.
Soft cheeses – brie, American slices, etc.
Yogurt – including Greek yogurt
Jams, Jellies, Preserves, Aspics, etc.
Baked goods and bread – including cakes, pies and more (some experts will say it is okay to eat a piece of bread from the opposite side of where it is moldy, but do you really want to take that chance?)
Nuts – peanuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, etc.
Even if you just see a small spot of mold on the above-named foods, you should just throw them away. The reason for this is that mold can be growing at the microscopic level, where you can’t even see it, so there may still be mold on the part of the food you salvaged. Also, try not to touch the mold, as it can also be absorbed through contact. If you do make contact, be sure to wash your hands right away.
What Foods Can I Eat after Mold Has Occurred?
What foods are okay to eat after mold is present? Actually, there are a quite a few. Years ago, the USDA, in an effort to limit the wasting of food in the United States, put out a list of foods that are probably okay to eat after mold spores are present. Of course, you are definitely going to want to cut around the yucky moldy part, but the rest of the food, where no mold is seen, is typically very safe to enjoy. Here they are:
Hard salami is delicious on crackers, in sandwiches on pizzas and more. These hard salamis, as well as dry-cured hams, will normally have a bit of surface mold on them. This mold appears like a white coating around the salami, usually during the curing stage. As a result of their hard surface, these products have a long shelf life, because it is near impossible for the mold spores to penetrate within the salami.
When eating hard salami, just scrub off the outer coating with a knife – carefully wash that knife before and after – and enjoy!
Hard cheese can often acquire mold after too many weeks in the fridge, but because of its dense makeup, these cheeses, like the salami, also make it difficult for mold to penetrate inside. If you want to enjoy a piece of hard cheese with a spot of mold on it, according to the USDA you should simply “cut off at least one inch around and below the mold spot (remember to keep the knife out of the mold itself so it will not cross-contaminate other parts of the cheese). After trimming off the mold, re-cover the cheese in fresh wrap.”
There are soft fruits, like most of those in the berry family, and many of our summer fruits, and then there are firmer fruits like apples, pears and other fruits with a low moisture content. And when a spot of mold occurs on this latter group, it is usually okay to cut around the spot of mold and proceed to eat the rest. Be sure to follow the same cutting safety regulations described above – cutting a full inch all the way around the mold before eating the remainder.
Softer fruits like peaches, plums, tomatoes (yes the tomato is a fruit) and apricots are much more susceptible to penetrating mold growth and should thus be tossed in the garbage when a spot of mold appears.
Firmer vegetables have the same benefit as firmer fruits – they have less moisture content and thus make it more difficult for the mold to penetrate deep within. Because of this, the same one-inch rule of cutting around the mold applies with veggies in this category. Some of these firmer vegetables include carrots, radishes, beets, and other root-type vegetables that tend to be very hardy.
Sadly, mold is a fact of life that we all must live with, but we don’t have to allow it to slow us down. Now that you know some of the dangers associated with eating moldy food we recommend you keep this list handy so you’ll know which foods are okay to eat and which foods are not. And if there ever comes a time when you’re not quite sure what to do, please, please remember this simple phrase: “When in doubt, throw it out!”