Moldy food – what should I do?

Are moldy foods safe to eat?

It has happened to all of us. You open the refrigerator to pull out ingredients for dinner and there it is mold. Now what? Is it safe to cut-off the moldy section off the food and use the rest? Should it be thrown out? These are questions we have all asked at least once in our lives.

First, let’s talk about what mold is and how to prevent it. Mold is a type of fungi that can be found both indoors and outdoors. There are thousands of species of mold in the world. Mold grows best in warm, damp and humid conditions. However, mold is also able to survive in refrigerator temperatures. It can also tolerate salt and sugar, unlike many other food invaders, and can often be found on jams, jellies and cured, salty meats such as bacon, ham and bologna.

Mold prevention is all about cleanliness. The best way to prevent mold in the refrigerator is to clean the inside of the refrigerator every few months. A solution of one tablespoon baking soda to one quart of water can be used to wash the inside of the refrigerator effectively. Other tips include examining food before you purchase it at the store. Make sure produce and meat products do not have mold on them. Buy small amounts of food and use quickly to prevent mold growth. When you do bring perishables home, put them in clean containers and store them in the refrigerator immediately. Don’t leave perishables sitting out of the refrigerator for more than two hours and use all leftovers within three or four days. These practices can reduce the incidence of mold.

Now that we know what mold is and how to prevent it, let’s talk about what to do when mold is found on food. There are some foods than can be used if mold is discovered, however the list is short. Foods that can be consumed after finding mold include:

  • Hard salami
  • Dry-cured country hams
  • Hard cheese
  • Firm fruits and vegetables such as cabbage, bell peppers and carrots

The hard salami and dry-cured ham should have the mold scrubbed off the surface. The mold found on hard cheese and firm fruits and vegetables should be cut off at least one inch around, and below the mold. Be careful to keep the knife away from the mold itself so it does not cross-contaminate other parts of the food.

Many foods must not be used in the presence of mold. Michigan State University Extension advises not using:

  • Luncheon meats
  • Bacon or hotdogs
  • Cooked leftover meat and poultry
  • Cooked casseroles
  • Cooked grain and pasta
  • Soft cheese such as cottage, cream or chevre
  • Yogurt and sour cream
  • Jams and jellies
  • Soft fruits and vegetables
  • Bread and baked goods
  • Peanut butter, legumes and nuts

These are foods with high, moisture content and are therefore more likely to have mold and/or bacteria growing below the surface.

With the above tips and techniques you should now be able to deal with mold confidently. If you would like more information on food safety, please call your local Extension office or 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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