It’s winter and for many of us, mold is in our world. I thought it might be helpful to take a look at how to handle mold and what its effect is on our health and indoor air quality. This week we’ll be looking at mold in our food and next week we’ll talk about mold in our homes.
There is no doubt that mold contributes to food waste and can lead to decreased food safety. Americans throw away millions of pounds of food each year. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that we waste as much as 40 percent of our food. I’m sure you are like me and have dug in the refrigerator for a meal and found that soft and moldy nugget that says you waited too long to use it. When you find that mold has entered that foodstuff, do you wonder if you can eat the part that isn’t blue, or do you just throw it away?
Mold is Mother Nature’s way of reclaiming and breaking down what hasn’t been used. Understanding what that means to a product is key to deciding whether to eat it or toss it. Mold is like a tree. Though we only see the blue/green part (the leaves), sometimes the roots are deep within a product where you can’t see them. One way to decide what must be tossed is to think about the porosity or the softness of a product. The softer the product, the deeper the roots and, in return, the higher need to toss it.
Let’s take a look at some common products and how you treat them.
Cheeses are made with mold, right? So it should be fine, but not exactly. Molds used with manufacturing cheeses are harmless but not necessarily those that grow with spoilage. Think about the hardness of the cheese. Soft cheeses like cream cheese, Brie or ricotta should be tossed. Even blue cheese should be tossed if mold other than that used to make it is there. Hard cheese, such as cheddar, Swiss or Colby can be salvaged. Cut off the mold and an inch of the cheese below the mold to get the roots, and the rest can be used.
Fruits and vegetables are expensive, so we hate to throw them away. Again, think about the softness of the product. Dense, low moisture produce, such as carrots, hard apples and jicama, can be salvaged by trimming the mold off and one inch below. Cucumbers, peaches and greens should be thrown away. So make it your policy to protect your investment by using any fresh produce as soon as possible.
Bread is another quickly mold-infected product. If you see any mold on the loaf, it is best to throw it out. The product is porous and likely has mold spores throughout. So green mold on the outside means go — right into the garbage.
Jams and jellies are another one I get questions on often. The answer is a little different here. The sugar content is so high in most jams and jellies that the mold roots haven’t penetrated the product. So you are safe to eat as long as you discard a one-half inch margin below the visible mold. One word of caution is that this only applies for full sugar recipes. If it is a low or no sugar, discard the product. Keep track of those homemade goodies and make sure you use them before mold invades.
Mold can invade your food and compromise food safety. Recognize that when it comes to food safety, if there is any doubt, throw it out.