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What happens if you eat moldy food?

By The Health News Team | December 27, 2018
What happens if you eat moldy food?

It happens to the best of us: devouring that perfect sandwich before realizing, in terror, that it's spotted with mold. Should you pack a bag and head for the ER?

Not necessarily.

While moldy food is disgusting, it's rarely dangerous. Most molds can't compete with the tough-as-nails stomach acid that your body produces. And unless you eat a lot of it, you'll probably feel just fine.

"Aside from the safe kind, used to make some cheeses, eating mold should be avoided," says Dr. Cristina Coronado, an internal medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy. "But if you do happen to accidentally eat it, the odds of it harming you are low."

But that doesn't mean you should add moldy food to your daily menu. Some molds — or molds in high quantities — could contain harmful organisms that cause food poisoning. Even worse (and rarer still) some food molds could contain mycotoxins, compounds that can be highly poisonous.

So if that moldy sandwich is making you nervous, don't panic — but call your doctor if you experience:

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Stomach cramps

  • Diarrhea

  • Weakness

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Headache

Can I still eat that?
Another common question concerning mold is whether or not you can salvage fuzzy food. Can you carve the white spot out of the jelly jar? Or opt for a middle piece in a bag of moldy bread? In most cases, the answer is no.

"If you see mold on food, chances are, there's more you can't see," Dr. Coronado says. "Mold has a network of microscopic roots. Tough vegetables or hard cheeses may be an exception, but it's not worth the risk. If you see mold anywhere on your food, your best bet is to throw it out."

6 tips to avoid food mold
Perhaps the worst part about food mold is the waste. Spending your time and money at the grocery store can be frustrating when seemingly good food must be tossed. Minimize mold, and food waste, by trying the following:

  1. Buy small. Purchase small quantities of food — especially produce and perishables. It may mean an extra trip to the store, but your food is less likely to go bad. 

  2. Examine your food. Check everything carefully before you buy it, including jars, produce, and cured and cooked meats. Avoid produce that is bruised.

  3. Invest in storage containers. Instead of covering food with foil or plastic wrap, use tightly sealed storage containers to prevent air exposure.

  4. Protect perishables. Don't leave perishable foods out of the refrigerator for longer than two hours.

  5. Don't let leftovers linger. Eat prepared food leftovers as soon as possible, and don't keep them past one week.

  6. Scrub your fridge. Clean the inside of your refrigerator every few months with a mixture of baking soda and water. Scrub any visible mold immediately.

For a full list of food types and their handling instructions, visit the USDA's fact sheet on mold.

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