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Tip Tuesday: Is mold on food dangerous?
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We know our guests sometimes come across cheese or lunch meat that had been pushed to the back of the refrigerator and are now spotted with mold.  They wonder: Is it safe to eat or should they toss it?  Conventional wisdom says if you are in doubt, throw it out. But, depending on the situations, you may be able to keep it.

Some molds cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems.  And few molds, in the right conditions, produce mycotoxins, a poisonous substance that can make you sick.

Mycotoxins are 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.  The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 25 percent of the world’s food crops are affected by mycotoxins.

Molds are not only on the surface of food, you only see the gray fur on bologna, fuzzy green dots on bread, dust on cheddar cheese, and velvety circles on fruit but when a food shows mold growth, root threads have invaded it deeply.  Some molds can spread toxins throughout the food.

While molds prefer warmer temperatures, they can grow at refrigerator temperatures, too.  Molds also tolerate salt and sugar which means they can grow in refrigerated jams, jellies, and salty meats such as ham, bacon, salami, and bologna.

Cleanliness is vital in controlling mold.  Mold spores from affected food can build up in your refrigerator, dishcloths and other cleaning utensils. Tips to keep out mold spores from our Food Safety Team at Festival Foods:

  • Clean the inside of your refrigerator every few months with 1 tablespoon of baking soda dissolved into a quart of water.  Rinse with clear water and dry.  Scrub visible mold, usually black, on rubber casings using 3 teaspoons of bleach in a quart of water.
  • Keep dishcloths, towels, sponges and mops clean and fresh.  A musty smell means they’re spreading mold around.  Discard items that can’t be cleaned or laundered.
  • Keep the humidity level in your house below 40%.
  • When serving food, keep it covered to prevent exposure to mold spores in the air.  Use plastic wrap to cover foods you want to stay moist.
  • Empty open cans of perishables items into clean storage containers and refrigerate them promptly.  Don’t leave any perishables out of the refrigerator more than 2 hours and use leftovers within 3-4 days.

If you discover mold on food, don’t sniff it.  This can cause temporary respiratory trouble.  If food is covered with mold, discard it.  Put it in a paper or plastic bag and dispose in a covered trash can.

We've got some great information from the Food Safety and Inspection Service  that will help you decide what to keep and what to throw away.

Molds on Food

FOOD HANDLING REASON  
Luncheon meats, bacon, or hot dogs Discard Foods with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface. Moldy foods may also have bacteria growing along with the mold.  
Hard salami and dry-cured country hams Use. Scrub mold off surface. It is normal for these shelf-stable products to have surface mold.  
Cooked leftover meat and poultry Discard Foods with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface. Moldy foods may also have bacteria growing along with the mold.  
Cooked casseroles Discard Foods with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface. Moldy foods may also have bacteria growing along with the mold.  
Cooked grain and pasta Discard Foods with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface. Moldy foods may also have bacteria growing along with the mold.  
Hard cheese
(not cheese where mold is part of the processing)
Use. 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 cheese). After trimming off the mold, re-cover the cheese in fresh wrap. Mold generally cannot penetrate deep into the product.  
Cheese made with mold
(such as Roquefort, blue, Gorgonzola, Stilton, Brie, Camembert)
Discard soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert if they contain molds that are not a part of the manufacturing process. If surface mold is on hard cheeses such as Gorgonzola and Stilton, cut off mold at least 1 inch around and below the mold spot and handle like hard cheese (above). Molds that are not a part of the manufacturing process can be dangerous.  
Soft cheese
(such as cottage, cream cheese, Neufchatel, chevre, Bel Paese, etc.) Crumbled, shredded, and sliced cheeses (all types)
Discard Foods with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface. Shredded, sliced, or crumbled cheese can be contaminated by the cutting instrument. Moldy soft cheese can also have bacteria growing along with the mold.  
Yogurt and sour cream Discard Foods with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface. Moldy foods may also have bacteria growing along with the mold.  
Jams and jellies Discard The mold could be producing a mycotoxin. Microbiologists recommend against scooping out the mold and using the remaining condiment.  
Fruits and vegetables, FIRM
(such as cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, etc.)
Use. 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). Small mold spots can be cut off FIRM fruits and vegetables with low moisture content. It’s difficult for mold to penetrate dense foods.  
Fruits and vegetables, SOFT
(such as cucumbers, peaches, tomatoes, etc.)
Discard SOFT fruits and vegetables with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface.  
Bread and baked goods Discard Porous foods can be contaminated below the surface.  
Peanut butter, legumes and nuts Discard Foods processed without preservatives are at high risk for mold.  
 
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