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What to Do If There’s Mold on Your Food

- Daniel Day / Getty Images
Daniel Day / Getty Images

Read this before you throw out that moldy food.

You came home from the store with beautiful blackberries, but two days go by and you notice a bit of mold on a blackberry or two. There goes some cash and your favorite oatmeal topper.

It’s the worst when food goes bad before you’ve had a chance to eat it, and it happens a whole lot. Some ingredients begin to mold faster than others, but unless you’re keeping them in the right location and you’re eating them as soon as you can, it’s pretty easy to leave food susceptible to fungus.

First off—what is mold?

“Mold is a fungus that lives off and feeds off of dead or dying organic matter. It releases small spores in the air, and requires moisture to grow, like the moisture from washing, cooking, air humidifiers, or leaks in the plumbing,” says Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RD. When conditions are ideal for spores to anchor in something like food, they will create spoilage, which can then spread to the rest of the items in the container.

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They appear as blue-green speckles on the top surface of the food. If you see anything along those lines, you’ve got some mold on your hands.

It’s not super dangerous (though you don’t want to eat it!); however, “the issue is that under the right conditions some produce "mycotoxins," which are poisonous substances that can make people sick,” adds Toby Amidor, MS, RD Wall Street Journal best-selling cookbook author of Smart Meal Prep for Beginners. So, you really want to toss any moldy food to be safe.

Where are you likely to find it?

“Mold tends to favor salty and sugar foods like jams and cured meats, like salami. You also tend to see it on fruits, vegetables, cheese, yogurt, and sour cream,” says Amidor.

And foods that contain any kind of water or fluid are susceptible to mold growth, as molds and fungi thrive in a dark, moist environments. “Think your humid fridge drawers! Mold can start developing in as soon as 24 hours, especially if the food is a few days old,” explains Michalczyk. Foods like cheeses, mushrooms, breads, meat or fish, and milk are very susceptible to mold, she adds.

How do you treat mold?

It depends on the type of food and where the mold is. For instance, “when mold is on harder fruits and vegetables, those roots of the mold cannot get deep into the food. That is why you can cut around it,” says Amidor. For harder fruits and vegetables, like carrots and cabbage, you can trim an inch around the mold, she says. You can still eat the rest, but be sure to toss the moldy part. The same goes for hard cheeses, like Parmesan. (And if you are trimming, wash your hands and the knife ASAP to avoid cross-contamination to another food.)

For softer fruits, vegetables, and cheeses you want to discard it. “If mold is found on soft fruit like strawberries, peaches, cucumbers, and tomatoes, the food should be discarded. This is because these fruits and vegetables are high in moisture, so the mold can exist deep into it,” Amidor says.

And if you see any weird texture or other colors, just toss it to be safe. “Powdery blue mold found on lemons at the bottom of your fruit bowl are best tossed. Black dots all over your bread mean that the mold is spreading and multiplying, so don't try to save it or freeze it,” says Michalcyzk.

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How to prevent mold

A few prevention tips can help.

“Keep the inside of your fridge clean and remove any spoiled food immediately. If something moldy is in a drawer next to something else, it can definitely spread it,” says Michalcyzk.

Also, when storing things in the fridge, keep them covered and use leftovers within 3-4 days, she says, especially for fresh cut fruits and vegetables. “Open cans of food left in the refrigerator are a nice environment for mold to grow,” says Amidor.

To prevent mold growth, empty open cans of perishable food and place them into clean storage containers with a cover, refrigerating immediately. Keep food covered and in the refrigerator when you're not eating it. “Mold growth is increased when foods sits at room temperature for over several hours,” says Amidor.

And think about your kitchen countertops. “Don't let dishtowels, sponges, and mops linger when wet. When they start having a musty smell, that means they could be spreading mold around,” says Michalczyk.

Food is able to grow mold easily because it is often kept in the perfect environment to foster mold growth, so by being more vigilant about your storing methods and clean up habits, you’ll be able to enjoy your food longer.

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