Nothing is more tragic than going to polish off that exquisite Chinese takeout from a few nights ago only to discover a spot of mold in your lo mein. Can you just remove the offending noodle? Or do you have to throw out the whole thing?
If you do notice a spot on your food, you shouldn’t sniff it to see if it’s gone bad, as you can inhale the mold spores, which can cause respiratory issues. And remember that mold on food can also indicate the presence of potentially harmful bacteria. Sometimes you just need to throw out the food, in which case, you should put it in a closed bag or wrap it in plastic before throwing it away and disinfect any surfaces it may have come into contact with.
For the bolder among us, read on. There are some cases where a bit of mold isn’t a death sentence to your favorite foods.
Soft cheese: If mold is growing on your soft cheese (cottage, ricotta, cream), you should throw it out. The same goes for shredded, crumbled and sliced cheeses.
Hard and semisoft cheese: With these cheeses, removing the mold is easier because of their firm, low-moisture texture. Cut the mold off the cheese, including a 1-inch barrier between the moldy spot and the rest of the cheese. Also, make sure to keep your knife clean — if it touches the moldy spot and then the rest of the cheese, it could end up spreading the mold. And when it’s time to put the cheese back into the fridge, make sure it’s in a different package or container than it was in when it was covered in mold.
Bread and baked goods
According to the USDA, moldy bread and baked goods should be thrown away. Because of their porous structures, when you see a spot of mold on the surface of a bread or baked good item, it’s an indication that its threads may have penetrated deep into the food.
If it really seems like there’s only one tiny spot of mold in your bread, carve around it with a wide margin, then inspect the fresh cut for any evidence of mold before eating.
For moister baked goods like quick breads, cakes and pastries, the moldy food should be discarded.
From yogurt and sour cream to pudding and whipped cream, soft dairy products that contain mold should be thrown out, as there’s no safe way to remove or contain the mold growth.
Berries (and other soft fruits) should be discarded if they’re moldy. According to the USDA, their high moisture content means that mold spreads easily through them. This means that even if you see just one moldy berry in a basket, the whole thing should be tossed. To prevent food waste, always check the bottom of your berry container for any signs of mold before buying.
To prevent mold growth, you can wash your berries in a solution of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water, rinse them in fresh water and then dry them in a salad spinner lined with paper towels. Store them in a dry container lined with paper towels, leaving the lid slightly ajar so moisture can escape.
Hard vegetables like carrots, beets, rutabaga, squash and other veggies with dense textures can be OK with a little mold. Just cut off the mold, starting about 1 inch away from where it begins, and then wash the veggie thoroughly before eating or cooking with it.
Soft veggies like bell peppers and cucumbers should be discarded at the first sign of mold growth.
Jams and jellies
Though the sugar in jams and jellies can prevent it from growing bacteria, mold does just fine. Sadly, because of the high moisture content and soft texture of jams and jellies, if you see any mold, the USDA recommends that you out throw these items.
Unfortunately, due to their high moisture content, condiments like ketchup, mayo and relish that are moldy should be tossed. Even if there is just a spot of mold on the cap or lid of the product, it could be a sign that there are more mold spores in the condiment itself.
If your leftover pasta, casserole, stew or potpie is growing mold, toss it. Most cooked foods are high-moisture, and there’s no safe way to remove the mold and all of its spores from the food. Also, if your food is old enough to grow mold, it could be a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria too.
Mold on your hard salami or dry-cured ham? No problem — you can just scrub it off. (In fact, artisan-cured salami is made with mold.) Mold on other meat? Toss it — it’s not safe, especially on raw meat. With meat, it’s especially common for mold to be present alongside harmful bacteria, so even if you see just a small spot of mold, it could be a sign of a more dangerous contamination.