Did you buy a container of fresh raspberries yesterday, but today they are already starting to look fluffy… It would be a shame to throw everything away, so maybe you can only take out the moldy fruits? Unfortunately, too easy an idea.
No matter how harmless a few dusty spots may look, moldy food can cause all kinds of problems: from stomach complaints to – in the most extreme cases – kidney damage or even cancer. Here are some tips to protect the intestines.
The science of mold
Mold is everywhere: on surfaces, in the air and in the soil. From the acidic brine in a jar of pickles to the grout between bathroom tiles, mold thrives in even the least hospitable places.
Although fungi survive in many places, they tend to do better in a warm, moist, nutrient-rich environment, says Elisabetta Lambertini, a researcher at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. A steaming sourdough loaf or half-eaten jar of apricot jam is a feast for hungry fungi.
The microscopic spores with which fungi reproduce can end up anywhere where water or wind touches them. The average person inhales between a thousand and ten billion mold spores every day. The only foods where these spores cannot settle are products in unopened, airtight containers, or canned.
“Temperature is important,” says Don Schaffner, head of the food sciences department at Rutgers University in the US. ‘Microorganisms are actually just bags of chemical reactions. Lowering the temperature slows down those reactions.’
Cooling or freezing certain foods, such as bread or pastries, can therefore extend their lifespan. Make sure the temperature in your refrigerator remains between 1.5 and 4 degrees Celsius. Store food in separate, clean, closed containers to prevent cross-contamination.
Which traces are common in the home?
There are thousands of species of mold and only some of them produce toxins. In the growth of brush mold on apples or the growth of Aspergillus Grapes and coffee, for example, release toxins that, even with a single exposure, can lead to poisoning or kidney damage. Ingestion of large amounts of aflatoxin, the most dangerous mold toxin, can lead to serious poisoning or – with prolonged exposure – even liver cancer. Fortunately, these are usually not the molds that grow in your refrigerator.
What do you do with moldy food?
For hard foods, such as hard cheese or carrots, it is safe to cut away the mold plus a few extra inches. In softer foods – soft cheese, yoghurt, jam, pickles, hummus – it is more difficult to determine how far the mold has penetrated. Scooping away the mold is not a safe option in this case; Unfortunately, it is better to throw the entire product on the compost heap.
It is also better not to take any risks with meat or fish. Also, trying to boil or freeze the growth will only kill the mold itself – not the toxins it has produced. With berries it depends on the amount of visible mold. If it concerns one or two isolated berries, it is sufficient to throw them away and wash the rest. But more than that becomes risky, because it is difficult to estimate the severity of the growth.
What if you accidentally eat mold?
In most cases, the bit of mold swallowed is not poisonous, and even if it is, a small amount is not a reason to panic.
However, it remains advisable to be vigilant for symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea and shortness of breath. For people with a weakened immune system, it is wise to consult a doctor after consuming or inhaling mold. (Don’t forget to bring a sample of the culprit for further testing.)
Ultimately, living with fungi is part of being human, Schaffner says. “Fungi have been around much longer than we have, and they will be around long after we are gone.”