How to Handle Moldy Food

Your Kitchen game plan

When you see mold on food, is it safe to cut off the moldy part and use the rest? For most foods the answer is no, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Discard soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert if they display molds that are not a part of the manufacturing process. Infected soft cheeses, such as cottage cheese, cream cheese, Neufchatel and crumbled, shredded and sliced cheeses, should be discarded. Such foods with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface.

For hard cheeses in which mold is not part of the processing, it’s safe to remove the mold and eat the cheese. USDA recommends cutting off at least one inch around and below the mold spot. Be sure to keep the knife out of the mold itself so it will not cross-contaminate other parts of the cheese. After trimming off the mold, re-cover the cheese in fresh wrap. Mold generally cannot penetrate deep into the product.

Small mold spots can be cut off fruits and vegetables with low moisture content such as cabbage, bell peppers and carrots. Cut off at least one inch around and below the mold spot. Keep the knife out of the mold itself so it will not cross-contaminate other parts of the produce. Discard fruits and vegetables with high moisture content that can be contaminated below the surface.

Although most molds prefer higher temperatures, they can grow in your refrigerator. Check for mold in refrigerated jam and jelly and on cured, salty meats such as ham, bacon, salami and bologna. Discard jams and jellies infested with mold. The mold could be producing a mycotoxin. Hard salami and dry-cured country hams normally have surface mold. Some salamis have a characteristic thin, white mold coating that is safe to consume, but they shouldn’t show any other mold. Dry-cured country hams normally have surface mold that must be scrubbed off before cooking.

Clean the inside of your refrigerator every few months with one tablespoon of baking soda dissolved in a quart of water. Keep your dishcloths, towels, sponges and mops clean and fresh. A musty smell means they’re spreading mold around. Keep the humidity level in the house as low as practical—below 40 percent, if possible.

Empty opened cans of perishable foods into clean storage containers and refrigerate them promptly. Don’t leave perishables out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. Use leftovers within three or four days so mold doesn’t have a chance to grow.

When you handle mold-infested foods, do not to sniff the moldy item. This can cause respiratory problems.

Bottom line: in some cases you can cut away the moldy part and use the food item—provided you know what you’re doing. But generally speaking, if food is covered with mold, discard it. If in doubt, throw it out.


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