Let me set this up for you … it’s Labor day weekend and you’ve fired up the grill with some burgers, brats, or whatever grilled goodness you can think of. You head inside and grab the bag-o-buns and (gulp) notice a few small greenish spots on the surface.
While no one is looking you face the critical decision, do you pluck off the little green spots and serve the buns up, or is it time to head to the store for a fresh set? It’s a hard call, but keep this in mind – the colorful spots you see on food are just the surface spores that allow the mold to reproduce. Just like plants, mold has roots below the surface that can travel deep into the food.
Because the colorful spores on the surface of your food are just part of the mold, scraping or cutting this part off of your bread or bagel won’t save you from eating a mouthful of fungus. While you probably won’t die from eating fungus, keep in mind that foods that are moldy may also have invisible bacteria growing along with the mold.
The colorful mold you see on the surface of food is just the tip of what is going on inside.
Most molds are harmless, but some are dangerous. Some contain mycotoxins. These are poisonous substances produced by certain molds found primarily in grain and nut crops, but are also known to be on celery, grape juice, apples, and other produce. These substances are often contained in and around the threads that burrow into the food and can cause allergic reactions or respiratory problems.
Are any food molds beneficial?
Yes, molds are used to make certain kinds of cheeses and can be on the surface of cheese or be developed internally. Blue veined cheese such as Roquefort, blue, Gorgonzola, and Stilton are created by the introduction of P. roqueforti or Penicillium roqueforti spores. Cheeses such as Brie and Camembert have white surface molds. Other cheeses have both an internal and a surface mold. The molds used to manufacture these cheeses are safe to eat.
What to do if you see mold on your food?
Don’t Eat – throw these out if you see mold
Luncheon meats, bacon, or hot dogs, Cooked leftover meat and poultry, Cooked casseroles, Cooked grain and pasta, Soft cheese
(such as cottage, cream cheese, Neufchatel, chevre, Bel Paese, etc.) Crumbled, shredded, and sliced cheeses (all types), Yogurt and sour cream, Peanut butter, legumes and nuts, Bread and baked goods.
Jams and jellies (The mold could be producing a mycotoxin. Microbiologists recommend against scooping out the mold and using the remaining condiment.)
Cheese made with mold (such as Roquefort, blue, Gorgonzola, Stilton, Brie, Camembert)
Eat – after cutting off the mold
Hard salami and dry-cured country hams (Eat them. Scrub mold off surface. It is normal for these shelf-stable products to have surface mold.)
Firm fruits and vegetables (such as cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, etc.) as well as hard cheeses are OK to eat if you remove the mold. Cut off at least 1 inch around and below the mold spot. Keep the knife out of the mold itself so it will not cross-contaminate other parts of the produce.
Remember while you’re preparing all this food, removing mold, etc. that you should be washing your hands and food prep surfaces often.
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