Mold is a problem that frequently plagues many household foods. It is not uncommon to pull forgotten food from the refrigerator only to find it covered in a fuzzy green or gray layer. While growing up, most children are warned to avoid eating foods covered in mold, but just how risky is it to consume mold?
What is Mold?
Mold is a microscopic fungi that lives and thrives on food products. Most types are made up of roots that invade the foods they live on, stalks that rise above the food and spores on the ends of the stalks. Spores allow mold to move and spread from one surface to another. Once mold is visible on the surface of a food like bread, it is very likely to have traveled deep within the bread and to have spread to other pieces via spores.
Dangers of Consuming Mold
Some people are susceptible to allergic reactions and respiratory problems when exposed to mold. Mold is also capable of producing substances known as mycotoxins, also known as “fungal poisons”. Additionally, some moldy food products are contaminated with bacteria known to cause food poisoning, such as: Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, Listeria monocytogenes, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Bacillus cereus and Escherichia coli. There are numerous different types of mycotoxins and symptoms will vary depending on the type and the amount consumed. Generally, symptoms range from fever, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting to gastrointestinal bleeding and liver damage.
Tips to Keep Your Food Safe
The single most important way to avoid eating moldy foods is to carefully inspect them before buying or consuming them. If there is any visible mold, it is safest to discard the food rather than trying to cut off the mold. Because mold forms roots, it is able to deeply invade food products. Dangerous substances may even be found surrounding the roots – these substances are not visible to the naked eye and therefore cannot be removed safely simply by cutting off the moldy portion of food. Mold growth can also be minimized by regularly cleaning the inside of your refrigerator and properly storing all food in a clean, dry location.
Some molds are utilized by the foodservice industry to create certain food products, such as: Roquefort, blue, Brie and Camembert cheeses. However, mold found on other food products is likely unsafe and may cause serious illness. It is best to discard any of the following foods if they contain mold: luncheon meats, bacon, hot dogs, cooked leftover meat and poultry, cooked casseroles, cooked grains and pasta, soft cheese, yogurt and sour cream, jams and jellies, bread and baked goods, peanut butter, legumes, and nuts and soft fruits and vegetables.