Handling Food with Mold

Article by Austin Goldberg, UConn Dietetics Student; Daniela Avelino, and Valerie Duffy 
Reviewers: Indu Upadhyaya
Publication EXT063 | April 2024


Discovering mold on food is often an unpleasant surprise, but knowing how to handle it safely is essential to prevent foodborne illness. Molds are microscopic fungi that live on plants or animal matter. Mold can grow on various types of food--from bread to fruits and vegetables--posing potential health risks if consumed. Proper knowledge and precautions allow for navigation of this situation safely. This article offers practical tips on how to deal with food contaminated by mold, ensuring health and well-being.

Identify the Mold

Before taking any action, it's crucial to identify the type of mold present on the food. Mold can appear in various colors, including green, white, black, or even blue. While some molds are harmless, others can produce toxins that can cause illness. If unsure about the type of mold, it's best to err on the side of caution and discard the food.

Are all Food Molds Bad?

Molds play a critical role in the production of specific types of cheeses and can manifest either on the surface or within the cheese itself. For instance, blue-veined cheeses like Roquefort, blue cheese, Gorgonzola, and Stilton are crafted by introducing Penicillium roqueforti spores. Additionally, cheeses such as Brie and Camembert feature white surface molds. Some cheeses exhibit both internal and surface molds. It's important to note that the molds utilized in the production of these cheeses are considered safe for human consumption.

How to handle food with mold on it

The approach to dealing with moldy food may vary depending on the type of food involved. Here's how to handle some common types of moldy food:

Bread and Baked Goods

  • Discard any pieces of bread or baked goods with visible mold growth.
    • Inspect adjacent pieces for signs of cross-contamination.

Fruits and Vegetables

  • Cut at least one inch around and below the moldy area on firm fruits and vegetables, such as cabbage, bell peppers, or carrots.  Do not cross contaminate (put the knife used to cut the mold into the uncontaminated area).
  • Soft fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries or tomatoes: discard the entire item if moldy.

Cheese and Dairy Products:

  • Hard cheeses, like cheddar or parmesan, can be salvaged by cutting at least one inch around and below the moldy spot.
  • Soft cheeses such as cottage cheese or cream cheese should be discarded entirely if any portion is moldy.
  • Yogurt and sour cream, both of which possess high moisture levels, should be disposed of at any sign of mold.

Meat and Poultry:

  • Discard any meat or poultry showing signs of mold growth: mold can penetrate deeply into these foods, making them unsafe to consume.

Food Storage and Prevention of Mold

To prevent mold growth on food during storage, follow these tips:

  • Keep Food Dry: Moisture promotes mold growth, so store food in dry conditions and use airtight containers to prevent exposure to air and humidity.
  • Check Expiration Dates: Regularly check the expiration dates of perishable foods and consume them before they spoil.
  • Refrigerate Perishables: Store perishable foods, such as meats, dairy products, and prepared foods, in the refrigerator at or below 40°F (4°C) to slow down mold growth.
  • Clean the Refrigerator: Regularly clean the interior of your refrigerator (every few months) by preparing a solution of one tablespoon of baking soda dissolved in a quart of water. Afterward, rinse the surfaces with clear water and ensure they are thoroughly dried.
    • For any visible mold, typically appearing black, on rubber casings, scrub the affected areas using a mixture of three teaspoons of bleach in a quart of water.

Dealing with moldy food requires caution and proper handling to ensure food safety. Following the tips outlined in this article allows for effective management of mold-contaminated food, while minimizing health risks. Remember to always prioritize food safety and discard any food items if uncertain about their safety.

Additional Resources