Pass me that fuzzy bread, please!

The colorful mold you see on the surface of food is just the tip of what is going on inside.

Let me set this up for you:

You wake up to a few mold spots on the underside of your only loaf of bread this morning, but you still have sandwiches to make for lunches and toast for the kid who now only eats toast for breakfast.

It’s just a few spots so do you cut them off and make due or toss the loaf and deal with the crying from said kid and complaints about missing peanut butter and jelly in the lunch boxes? You could slice that bottom off, right? I mean, those spots are just on the surface…

Well, health experts agree: Stear clear.

If you haven’t already studied the picture, go do that. If that’s not enough to keep you from ever picking mold off bread and eating it, then stay tuned.  

That fuzz you see on the surface looks like mini-mushrooms under a microscope. This is actually a type of fungi. But it’s what’s underneath that’s really concerning. Mold has a network of roots similar to those of plants, that travel deep below the surface of the food and can sometimes be associated with toxins.

“We don’t recommend cutting mold off of bread because it’s a soft food,” says Marianne Gravely, a senior technical information specialist for the United States Department of Agriculture. “With soft food, it’s very easy for the roots [of the mold], or the tentacles, or whatever creepy word you want to use, to penetrate deeper into the food.”

A lot of the molds are harmless, but some do contain toxins. Mycotoxins are released by some kinds of molds, primarily those found in grain and nut crops, on celery, in grape juice, on apples, and various other produce. The little roots can release toxins in and around the food causing allergic reactions/respiratory problems.

One such toxin, aflatoxin, is widely-known to cause liver cancer. This toxin is found primarily in peanuts and corn during the harvesting and storage process. The level of this toxin in these foods is monitored very closely before hitting the shelf, therefore corn and peanut butter are almost always completely safe to eat. (I never say “always” without an “almost”.)

And it gets better. Once that mold has moved into a food, there may also be all kinds of bacteria growing with it. There are all sorts of bacteria associated with different foods and molds. If you have interest in learning about types of bacteria that grow on bread check out this resource:

So, there’s mold on the food. What do you do?

TOSS IT. (In most cases.)

The U.S.D.A recommends you toss these moldy foods: deli meat, bacon, hot dogs, leftover meats, casseroles, pasta, grains, soft cheese (cottage, cream cheese, etc.), crumbled cheese, shredded cheese, sliced cheeses, yogurt, sour cream, peanut butter, legumes, nuts, bread, baked goods, jam and jelly (may contain mycotoxin)…the list goes on.

They also recommend you never give moldy food the “sniff test” because mold spores can easily be inhaled. Inhaling mold spores can which can lead to respiratory problems.

Wrap moldy foods up and toss them in a trashcan with a lid. Al, o make sure to clean the area where the item was stored and check surrounding items for mold. Spores spread easily through the air and can land on other foods.

Okay, there are some foods you CAN cut the mold off of and still eat.

Some foods you can go ahead and cut the mold off because they have surfaces that make it hard for mold roots to move through. These foods are hard salami, dry-cured country ham (scrub off mold), firm fruits and veggies (cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, etc.), and hard cheeses.

When cutting the mold from these foods cut at least one inch off below the mold fuzz and do not cross-contaminate the knife. Wash your hands!

And let’s give mold a little credit because it’s not always the bad guy.

Some very flavorful cheeses contain P. roqueforti or Penicillium roqueforti spores or surfaces molds that are perfectly safe to eat.

And you know penicillin, the antibiotic? It’s derived from the Penicillium mold, found commonly on bread. This mold is blue-green/gray in color and looks like fuzzy patches on the bread’s surface. Now, don’t go after moldy bread when you’re feeling the need for an antibiotic cure because that’s just silly, folks. It doesn’t work like that.

Anyway, how do you avoid this bread situation in the future?

Keep your bread dry and cool. Mold grows best in warm, moist environments. Except for Penicillium, which likes it cool. Basically, the rule is to eat more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so you don’t let your bread sit that long!

And here’s my best tip:

Every time you buy a loaf of bread, buy two. One goes out for immediate use and the other goes into the freezer as your back-up. Run out of bread? Pull that back-up out of the freezer and thaw it on the counter. You’ll have fresh bread in no time. And, in my opinion, the bread is even better this way.

Now you know better. Pass the knowledge along!


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