Health & Wellness

Is it OK to eat moldy food?

You’re famished for a bit of cheese, but you notice a blue spot on the chunk of cheddar in your fridge. Is it OK to slice off the bad part and eat the rest?

For many foods it actually is OK to just cut away the mold and eat the rest, says Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the Center for Sports Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

But, she says, “some molds can be quite toxic to the body. You can develop respiratory symptoms, gastrointestinal symptoms and sometimes allergies. Some are very dangerous.”

And while you might think that mold on blue cheese, which gets its color from a certain kind of beneficial mold, might be OK, it isn’t if the mold is any color other than blue, Bonci says to cut around it.

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If you see white stuff on real parmesan cheese it isn't mold, it's calcium lactate, according to the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research.

Hard foods that are safe, if you pare away the bad spots:

  • Carrots
  • Firm cheeses
  • Pears

"It’s harder for the mold to penetrate these foods,” Bonci says.

With softer foods, including soft cheeses, “you can’t assume when you’ve cut away the moldy part that you’ve completely gotten rid of it."

So, if you’ve got some grapes and there’s mold on a couple of them, throw the bunch away.

Bonci’s list of foods that are OK to eat once you’ve removed the mold:

Mold on hard fruit/veggies: Cut about ½ inch around the mold to get rid of it.

Hard cheese: cut about ½-1 inch around mold, rewrap cheese with new covering

Hard salami/dry cured ham: OK to use, mold adds flavor to the salami, can scrub the mold off the coating of the ham.

Gorgonzola/Bleu cheese: Cut out the moldy spot.

Once you’ve cut away the bad part and eaten your fill, don’t put the food back into the package you took it out of, Bonci says. There could be traces of mold left behind that will contaminate the cheese.

You should also clean the entire vegetable bin if you’ve found a piece with mold on it.

Not OK, even if there’s just a bit of mold:

  • Brie, Camembert
  • Hot dogs
  • Bacon
  • Casseroles
  • Leftovers
  • Pasta
  • Jams/jellies
  • Yogurt/sour cream
  • Lunch meat
  • Cooked meats
  • Soft fruits/ veggies/ even mold on orange rinds
  • Bread/baked goods
  • Sliced, shredded, cubed cheese
  • Nuts/nut butters

And don't just depend on your eyes, Bonci says. Bologna doesn't have to have gray fuzz on it to be toxic, for example. By the time the furry growth is seen on the surface, deep "roots" may have penetrated the food.

“If anything tastes musty, that’s a pretty good indicator that there is mold in there,” she adds.

Finally, according to the USDA, you can minimize mold growth by:

  • Using leftovers within 3 to 4 days.
  • Cleaning your refrigerator every few months with 1 tablespoon baking soda dissolved in a quart of water.
  • Scrubbing visible mold using 3 teaspoons of bleach in a quart of water.
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