You take a block of cheese out of your refrigerator and notice fuzzy spots of white or green mold. Should you toss it or simply cut the mold off? What about mold that appears on other foods, like strawberries or bread?
The "rules" about when it's safe to eat moldy food or not vary depending on the type of food. Generally speaking, if the food is hard, such as a brick of cheddar cheese or a carrot, you can cut off the moldy section (plus about one inch around it) and use the rest.
For softer foods, they should be discarded when mold is spotted because, the fact of the matter is, mold can be quite dangerous, and its roots can easily permeate soft foods, contaminating areas that appear to be mold-free. Let me explain…
What Is Mold?
Mold is a type of microscopic fungi that lives on organic matter. It's estimated that there are 300,000 or more different species of fungi, most of which are thread-like and produce spores that can be easily spread in air or water (or by insects). In many cases, mold will consist of three primary parts:1
• Root threads (which can spread throughout your food and may not be visible with your naked eye)
• Stalks rising above the food
• Spores at the end of the stalks (the spores give the mold its color)
Some mold is perfectly safe to eat and, in some cases, even desirable (the classic example would be cheeses made with mold, such as blue, Brie, Camembert, and Gorgonzola). Other molds can be quite toxic and may produce allergic reactions and respiratory problems, or produce poisonous substances called mycotoxins.
Aspergillus mold, for instance, which is most often found on meat and poultry (as well as environmentally), can cause an infection called aspergillosis,2 which is actually a group of illnesses ranging from mild to severe lung infections, or even whole-body infections.
The most serious type of aspergillosis is invasive aspergillosis, which is when the mold invades your blood vessels and the spreads to the rest of your body. Aspergillus allergy can result in fever, productive cough, and worsening asthma.