Should you throw out moldy food?
24 Oct 2013 09.45 am by Renny Wijeyamohan
I can’t count the amount of times I’ve pulled out a slice of bread from a loaf only to notice it covered in a blue and white bloom. Usually, I’ll close my eyes and dig a bit deeper hoping to find a bread piece untouched by moldy growth. If I’m unlucky the whole loaf will be sporting blue and white fur and will have to be thrown into the trash (along with my dreams of a delicious cheese and tomato toasted sandwich). Mold, however, is not an immediate sign that an entire food item needs to be binned. According to the US Department of Agriculture, it is only in some foods that mold is a sign of dangerous contamination.
What are molds?
“Mold” is the popular name given to tiny fungi that live on plant and animal matter – known together as “molds”. These fungi are microscopic and multicellular and sometimes can be seen by the naked eye. Molds are threadlike and have the appearance of tiny mushrooms. They have visible stalks and spores on the surface of food that give the mold its distinctive appearance and colour, as well as invisible root structures that penetrate below the surface to attack the food itself.
Why are molds dangerous?
While some molds are harmless, many are pathogenic. They can cause respiratory issues as well as allergic reactions. A small number of molds can also produce mycotoxins that are carcinogenic or that can cause kidney problems, gastrointestinal issues, reproductive disorders or weaken the immune system. In developed nations, food standards regulators work with producers to minimise the risk of mycotoxin contamination of foods.
How can I spot mold?
The primary means of assessing whether a food item is contaminated is by visual inspection. Hold the item up and look to see if the surface of the food bears coloured spots or fur. But the absence of mold stalks and spores on food surfaces does not mean that threadlike root structures have not invaded the food beneath. Jeff Nelken, a food safety consultant from California interviewed by CNN, describes mold as a jellyfish stating, “Even though you scrape off the head of the jellyfish, the tentacles are still in the food product.” For this reason, it’s handy to know what foods are susceptible to mold growth and what foods are resistant – this will give you a better idea of when to pull the trigger on a furry piece of food.
How do I know what foods to throw out if they are moldy?
There are two general rules to keep in mind when thinking about whether to throw out food that has signs of mold: First, mold spreads faster in foods with a high water content. Second, mold penetrates more deeply in soft foods than hard foods.
The US Department of Agriculture and Australia’s CSIRO suggest that the kinds of food you should throw out at the first sign of mold growth include:
•Meat products like sausages, steak, deli meats;
•Soft dairy products like milk, cream, yoghurt or soft cheeses like brie;
•Soft fruits and vegetables;
•Bread and other baked goods;
•Jams and other preserves; and
•Leftovers like pasta, curries, casseroles or pizza.
The kinds of food you can save are:
•Hard cheeses like cheddar or gorgonzola – cut out the mold as well as about 2 centimetres (approx. 1 inch) of leeway around the contaminated area;
•Hard salami – scrub off the mold; and
•Firm fruits and vegetables like carrot, broccoli or cabbage – cut off the mold spots.
With these salvageable foods – If the mold spots are large or the entire food item is covered with fur it’s beyond saving and should be tossed into the trash immediately.
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