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Moldy food, is it unsafe?

Most people will throw moldy food away. These are foods that have green or even fuzzy spots on them. More so, when food start to mold, their taste and texture changes. Nonetheless, people are grossed out when they see these type of foods.

It should also be said, that although there are different kinds of molds that contain harmful toxins, there are other that are used to actually make foods we love, like cheese.

The focus of this article is if mold in food is that bad for you.

Mold, what is it?

Simply put, mold is a kind of fungus that develops multi-cellular, thread-like structures. Mold is normally noticeable to the human eye when it grows on food, and it changes a food’s looks. The food’s texture could change, for instance it may become soft and transform its color. Then again the mold itself can be fuzzy, fluffy, or have a dusty texture.

Furthermore, the mold can produces spores that provide it its color, which is characteristically green, black, white, or even grey. It should also be said that moldy food tastes very different. One could describe the taste of that of wet dirt. Similarly, moldy food could also have an off smell.

What is important to mention is that even if mold is only evident on the surface, the mold’s roots could lie deep in the food. Mold requirements moist, warm organic matter to grow, so food is over and over again the perfect environment. There are thousands of diverse sorts of mold that exist. More so, these are found almost everywhere in the environment. But it is normal, has mold is part of the breaking down process of food.

To avoid molding on food, we tend to use different preservation techniques. These techniques can be from pickling, freezing, fermenting, and drying the food. All of these are to stop the growth of the mold but also other foodborne pathogens.

Which foods can be soiled with mold?

The simple answer is that almost all foods are at risk for developing mold. But there are some foods that are more prone to developing mold, than other types of foods.

One foods that are most at risk for developing mold, are fresh food that has a high water content. If preservatives are added, then the growth of mold and microorganisms are decreased.

Still, the mold that can develop is not just something that occurs at your house. In fact, the molding process can start at the food production process as well. This includes throughout growing, harvesting, storage or processing stages.

The common foods that could develop mold

Below are a small number of common foods that mold likes to grow on:

  • Fruits: Including grapes, strawberries, oranges, apples and raspberries
  • Vegetables: Including carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, and cauliflower
  • Bread: Especially when it contains no preservatives
  • Cheese: Both soft and hard varieties
  • Mold can also grow on other foods, including meat, milk, yogurt, nuts, and processed food.

Most molds want oxygen to survive that is why they normally do not thrive where oxygen is restricted, such as airtight packaging and containers. Therefore, if you do open a pack you should store them in an airtight container away from sunlight.

Furthermore, molds also want moisture to live, but there is a type of mold called xerophilic mold that can occasionally grow in dry, sugary environments. This mold, xerophilic, can from time to time be found on chocolate, dried fruits and baked goods.

Bacteria can likewise contaminate food

Besides mold that can live on food, invisible bacteria could also grow along with it. These could be bacteria can cause foodborne illnesses, with symptoms comprising of diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. The relentlessness of these illnesses hinge on on the sort of bacteria, the quantity ingested and the health of the person.

Mold is also used to produce some type of foods

Mold is not always unwanted in food. For instance, penicillium is a genus of molds used in the production of many types of cheese, such as brie, blue cheese, Gorgonzola, and Camembert.

The strains used to produce cheeses like the ones mentioned are safe to eat, since these strains cannot produce harmful mycotoxins. Plus, the circumstances where they live inside the cheese are not right for the production of mycotoxins. Additional safe molds are for instance koji molds, including Aspergillus oryzae, which are used to ferment soybeans to produce soy sauce. Also, these are used to produce vinegar, in addition to fermented beverages, including the Japanese drink sake.

It is vital to note that even though certain molds are added to specific foods for the duration of production to attain definite effects, the same molds can still spoil other food products. For instance, Penicillium roqueforti is used to produce blue cheese, but it will lead to spoilage if it grows in grated or fresh cheese.

Mold can develop mycotoxin

Mold can develop a toxic chemical known as mycotoxin. This chemical can cause disease and in some cases the results can be fatal. However it should be said, it depends on the quantity, the length of exposure and the age, as well as the health of the person.

Severe toxicity comprises gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. There could also be acute liver disease. Long-term low levels of mycotoxins can overwhelm the immune system and may even lead to cancer developing.

Still, besides being exposed through the eating of contaminated food, people can also get exposed through skin contact and inhalation of mycotoxins in the environment they are within. The problem is that , mycotoxins are invisible to the human eye, unlike other types of molds that are rather obvious to spot.

Mycotoxins could be growing on different types of foods

Mycotoxins may be found in food due to soiled crops. In actual fact, mycotoxin contamination is a common issue in the agricultural industry, as mycotoxins are produced by mold in nature. The problems is that around 25 percent of the world’s grain crops could be contaminated with mycotoxins.

The main groups of crops that normally is contaminated are oats, corn, nuts, fruits, vegetables and spices. The different factors that affect the development of the mold mycotoxins, are droughts weaken plants, making them more vulnerable to harm and infestation. Also, animal products, like milk, meat, as well as eggs, can also have the mold mycotoxins. That is if the animals consumed soiled feed. Plus contamination can also happen if the storage environment is somewhat warm and moist.

As mycotoxin development cannot be 100 percent prevented, the food industry has set into place methods of monitoring it. The levels of mycotoxins in foods are sternly regulated in about 100 countries.

More so, we are all exposed to little quantities of these toxins, but the levels do not surpass the safe limits. If you are a healthy person then the toxins will most likely not harm you. Regrettably, it is difficult to dodge exposure completely.

Mold may develop allergic reactions

There are people that have a respiratory allergy to molds. Plus eating moldy food could lead to an allergic reaction. Then again, those not allergic to mold are able to digest it without side effects.

Ways to prevent food from growing mold?

There are numerous ways to avert food from going bad due to mold growth. One way is to keep all food storage areas clean, and this includes the refrigerator. Appropriate handling is also imperative.

Here are the basics to prevent mold to develop in food:

  • Regularly clean your fridge by wiping the inside every few months
  • Keep all the cleaning supplies, such as sponges, and dishcloths clean
  • Remember that fresh food has a limited shelf life, therefore only buy a small amount at a time and use it within a few days
  • You should keep all perishable foods cool by storing them in the refrigerator, and don’t leave them out for more than two hours
  • Your storage containers should be clean and well-sealed
  • Also do use leftover food within four days
  • If you are not going to Freeze for longer-term storage: If you don’t plan on eating the food soon, put it in the freezer.

What if food has mold, do you keep it or throw it away?

As a rule, if you see mold then you should discard the infected food item, particularly soft foods. Hard foods, however, such as cheese you can just cut off the mold.

Here are a few types of foods you can safe:

  • Firm fruits and vegetables: like apples, bell peppers and carrots
  • Hard cheese: Both where mold is not part of the processing, such as Parmesan, and where mold is part of the processing, like Gorgonzola
  • Hard salami and dry-cured country hams
  • When removing mold from food, cut at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) around and below the mold. Also, be careful not to touch the mold with the knife.

Foods you should bin:

  • Soft fruits and vegetables: like strawberries, cucumbers and tomatoes
  • Soft cheese: such as cottage and cream cheese, as well as shredded, crumbled and sliced cheese. This also includes cheese that is made with mold but has been invaded by another mold that was not part of the manufacturing process
  • Bread and baked goods
  • Cooked food: Includes casseroles, meat, pasta and grains
  • Jam and jellies: If these products are moldy, they may contain mycotoxins
  • Peanut butter, legumes and nuts: Products processed without preservatives are at a higher risk of mold growth.
    Deli meats, bacon, hot dogs
  • Yogurt and sour cream.

Conclusion

Mold is natural and part of the decay process. But mold might produce dangerous mycotoxins in all kinds of foods, but mycotoxin levels are tightly regulated. Exposure to small amounts likely will not cause any damage in healthy people. In addition, mycotoxins only form when mold has reached maturity. By that time, you have undoubtedly thrown the food away. Still, accidentally ingesting mold will probably not cause any harm.

About Jacques Dippenaar

Jacques is an influential health blogger and researcher helping readers explore interesting facts and information.

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