When a food in my kitchen appears to have passed its prime, my husband and I often disagree about whether to keep or toss it.
He’s traveled the world and has eaten many unrecognizable foods, so how harmful is a little mold? “Just cut it off,” he’ll say. I, on the other hand, have worked in hospital foodservice and before becoming an R.D. took courses in food safety and food microbiology. Moldy? Chuck it!
Turns out we’re both right (or wrong, depending on how you look at things). According to the USDA, some foods can be used even when they’re moldy, while others need to be discarded.
Here are 4 moldy foods you can eat (but if it’s completely covered with mold, throw it away):
1. Hard salami and dry-cured country hams. Apparently it’s normal for these products to have a surface mold. The USDA’s advice is to just scrub the mold off the surface and then use.
2. Hard cheese made without mold. For cheeses where mold isn’t part of the processing, mold generally can’t get deep into the product. For hard cheeses, such as Asiago, Pecorino, Parmesan and Cheddar, lop off at least 1 inch around and below the mold spot (to avoid cross-contamination, be careful not to touch the mold with the knife).
3. Hard cheese made with mold. If these cheeses, such as Gorgonzola and Stilton, have a surface mold on them, you can use them if you cut off at least 1 inch around and below the mold spot.
4. Firm fruits and vegetables. The key word here is firm (think: cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, etc.). Like the hard cheeses made without mold, dense fruits and vegetables are not easily penetrated by mold. The same rule of thumb applies to firm produce: cut off at least an inch around and below the mold spot (again, not touching the mold with your knife) before using.
And here are foods you should toss if they’re moldy:
1. Yogurt and sour cream. These foods have a high moisture content and so may be contaminated with mold—which have difficult-to-see, thin, threadlike branches and roots—below the surface.
2. Some cheeses. Cheeses that are made with mold—and aren’t hard—such as Brie, Camembert and some blue cheeses, should be discarded. Soft cheeses, such as cottage and cream cheese, Neufchatel, chevre, etc., should also be thrown away. Also ditch all types of crumbled, shredded or sliced cheeses.
3. Jams and jellies. According to the USDA, the mold in jams and jellies could produce a mycotoxin (a poisonous substance that can make you sick) and so should be discarded.
4. Soft fruits and vegetables. Like yogurt and sour cream, soft fruits and vegetables (cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches, berries, etc.) may have mold growing below the surface. Also, because mold spreads quickly in fruits and vegetables, check nearby foods in your produce drawer.
5. Bread and baked goods. These are porous foods, so mold may also be growing below the surface.
6. Peanut butter, legumes and nuts. Because these are processed without preservatives, they’re at high risk for mold, according to the USDA.
7. Luncheon meats, bacon or hot dogs. If these items, which are moisture-rich, like yogurt, sour cream and produce, have mold on them, they should be discarded as the mold may also be below the surface.
8. Cooked leftovers. The USDA advises that you discard cooked leftover meat and poultry, cooked casseroles and cooked grain and pasta that are moldy. They all have high moisture content and, thus, may be contaminated with mold below the surface.