When Are Mouldy Foods Safe to Eat?

Mould on Bread

It is very possible that you missed this news story a few months ago. In a British cabinet meeting, now-lame-duck Prime Minister Theresa May told her colleagues that she scrapes off the mould on the top of her jam and doesn’t discard the jar. This statement has sparked a public and online debate in the United Kingdom with people arguing which foods are safe to eat once they’ve grown mould.

As a general rule, foods that have a high water content, such as cooked pasta and soft fruits, are not safe to eat if they’ve grown mould, as the mould can easily contaminate the food items below the surface. For a more detailed discussion, follow our guide below.

Safe to Eat

The British Food Standards Authority (FSA) proposes this rule: “We advise not to eat food that is obviously rotten or containing mould due to potential risks from the mould. This advice is especially important for people in vulnerable groups, which includes children, the elderly, pregnant women and those who have a weakened immune system,” they state. While it is possible that removing the mould and a significant amount of the surrounding product could remove any unseen toxins that are present, there is, according to the FSA, no guarantee that doing so would remove them all.

Most Cured Meats

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), it is perfectly normal for foods stored at room temperature such as hard salami and dry-cured hams to sometimes have a mouldy surface. As such, it’s safe to scrape the mould from the surface and consume the meat underneath.

Mouldy Cheese and Salami
Source: blockablock

Cheese

Now, not all cheeses are created equal. You’ll also find in the following “unsafe to eat” section that cheese is listed. Hard cheeses such as Parmesan or Grana Padano are safe to eat if the surface develops some mould. It is unlikely that any toxins would penetrate deeper into the cheese. To avoid the development of mould in the short term, store your cheese at the bottom of your vegetable or fruit drawer. Even in this instance, maybe cut an inch piece all around the mouldy spots off the cheese – safety first.

There are other cheeses that are also safe to eat. You’ve guessed it: the cheeses that were first manufactured with mould. Gorgonzola, Stilton and Roquefort are prominent examples. When these cheeses, however, develop mould that looks different to the mould they were made with, discard.

Firm Fruits and Veggies

There is a bit of a debate as to what counts as a firm fruit or vegetable. A rule of thumb is that anything resembling the density of a pumpkin or squash counts. That includes carrots and cabbage as well. Some even say peppers are safe to consume once the mould is scraped off. This type of produce has low water content and is, therefore, less likely to spread any toxins throughout the flesh.

The FSA disagrees with this rule and pleads to not consume any fruits and vegetables that are obviously rotten/mouldy due to risks from the mould, as toxins may penetrate below the surface. “However, if fruit/vegetables are a bit overripe (for example wrinkly apples and carrots, brown bananas, slightly mushy strawberries) it is fine to use them in cooking/smoothies/cakes,” they add in their guidelines.

Pumpkin with Mould

Not Safe to Eat

Meat

Except for salami and other dry-cured charcuterie, you should discard of any mouldy meat – raw or cooked leftovers. Some of you might say, isn’t dry-aged beef technically mouldy meat. You are right of course but similar to cheeses that are manufactured with mould, it happens in a controlled atmosphere. The mould growing on your leftover meats in the fridge is not the same type.

Cooked Grains and Pasta

As mentioned before, any items with high water content are unsafe. Apart from maybe a cucumber or melon, cooked grains and pasta might have the highest water content of all foods – discard.

Cheese

Soft cheeses to be exact. Brie, Camembert and anything in this category gets their taste from enzymes also present in mould. When mould, however, appears on the surface of these cheeses it is safer to throw them out. Mainly because of higher water content.

Soft Cheese

Yogurt

I must admit that I vehemently disagree with this advice. I’ve grown up scraping off the mould from the top of yogurts – sorry, not sorry. I guess the water content rule applies here too.

Bread

Make a clear distinction here between stale and mouldy bread. Stale bread is perfectly fine, if not the tastiest. You can still use it for many recipes that ask for stale bread in particular. Due to the porous nature of bread, mould can easily spread and contaminate below its surface. If you see mould on your leavened baked goods, part with them, please.

Soft Fruits and Vegetables

As aforementioned, mould can be safely removed from firm fruits and vegetables. This same tactic, however, doesn’t apply to soft fruits and vegetables such as peaches, tomatoes and cucumbers due to the high water content of the foods.

Jam and Bread
Source: Spruce Eats

Jam

Last but not least, jam. The condiment that kicked off this debate. There isn’t a full consensus on the issue, but the USDA advises throwing away jam if it’s grown mould, as the mould could produce a mycotoxin, which is a toxic substance produced by a fungus that would be detrimental to consume. If you’ve ever scraped off mould from jam and tasted it after, you quickly understand that the flavour profile has changed.

On the other hand mould expert, Dr. Patrick Hickey explained to the BBC in a story about food safety, that it is safe to scrape mould off jam before eating the condiment underneath. I am siding with the Americans here. Theresa May can follow whichever advice she gets, or none at all. She, however, has gotten quite skilled with the latter.

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Kevin Sachs
Kevin Sachs was born and raised in Zurich, Switzerland. As a former broadcast journalist for SRF, his previous works were featured in Haaretz, Le Matin, Tagesanzeiger, Süddeutsche Zeitung and AWE Magazine. With his passion for all things food and travel, it was only a matter of time until he ended up at DINE Magazine.