What happens if I accidentally eat mouldy food?

Mouldy food might make you freak out, but probably won't kill you.
Mouldy food might make you freak out, but probably won't kill you.

Few things sting as much as the betrayal of a beloved food. You bite into a sandwich or a piece of fruit and just as you’re poised to swallow, you realise it’s covered in mould.

Do you immediately spit it out? Rinse out your mouth? Call your mom?

Well, according to Dr Rudolph Bedford, a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, you’re probably fine. But there are a few things worth noting about eating mould, one being the rare occasion when mouldy food can actually make you sick.

What will happen if I eat mould?

“Well, you’re not going to die from it,” says Dr Bedford, “and you can digest it like any other food,” as long as your immune system is in good shape.

Moulds, or microscopic fungi, creep up on plant and animal products after being transported by air, water, or insects. They can be dangerous, but usually aren’t. They’re even meant to be on some foods, including dry-cured country hams and cheeses such as blue, Gorgonzola, Brie, and Camembert – and they’re totally safe to eat, according to the USDA.

But what about the fuzzy green or white stuff on vegetables? It might make you feel sick, but Dr Bedford says this is most likely because the mould tastes bad, not because of any particular toxin.

Before you rush to call the doctor, Dr Bedford says to wait and see if your symptoms escalate beyond nausea. “The stomach is a harsh environment, so, for the most part, most bacteria and fungi won’t survive,” he explains.

Read more: Which veggies have more nutrients: fresh or frozen?

But what do I do if I do get sick?

“It’s very uncommon that you’re going to get [really] sick from mould,” says Dr Bedford. And in the rare instance you do, it will most likely be from large amounts of moulds that are nontoxic. Your symptoms will include persistent nausea and vomiting, at which point, you should definitely call the doctor. And in other cases, “you may have an allergic reaction to some moulds, and you may develop some respiratory problems,” which Dr Bedford says are temporary and treatable.

“I may force patients to have diarrhoea to try to flush the system out,” says Dr Bedford. Or, he’ll prescribe anti-nausea medication or induce vomiting.

But don’t worry: In his 30 years of practice, Dr Bedford says he has never seen anyone die or require more intense treatment due to mould (though that doesn’t mean it’s impossible).

Just take mould as a sign that your food’s gone bad and move on.

Read more: 7 healthy lunchbox alternatives to processed meat

But what if I just cut around the mould?

Depends on the food.

All moulds have “roots” that invade foods, according to the USDA, though we only see their fuzzy discoloured tops. These roots allow toxins (if there are any) to spread all over the inside, so the best move, according to Dr Bedford, is to throw the food out regardless of where you see the mouldy patch.

Some hard cheeses, hard salami, firm fruits, and vegetables, for example, can still be eaten since it’s more difficult for the mould to penetrate them deeply, according to the USDA. Though their moulds aren’t any “safer”, you are free to “cut off at least 1 inch [2.5cm] around and below the mould spot.” Just make sure to keep the knife out of the mould and wrap the “good” part of the food in a new covering.

Foods that are okay to eat once you cut off mould:

  • Hard cheeses
  • Hard salami
  • Firm fruits
  • Vegetables

Foods to throw away if you spy mould:

  • Soft cheeses (that are not meant to be mouldy)
  • Soft fruits
  • Baked goods
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Yogurt
  • Jams
  • Meat

How can I prevent mould from forming?

Refrigerate, refrigerate, refrigerate.

“Mould growth is encouraged by warm and humid conditions,” according to the USDA (though they can grow in the refrigerator too, just more slowly), and when the mould spores dry, they float through the air and find conditions in which to grow some more mouldy friends. So, the USDA recommends keeping your refrigerator clean, keeping your home’s humidity level below 40%, examining food for mould before you buy it, purchasing food in small amounts so mould doesn’t have time to grow, covering food with plastic wrap, and eating leftovers within three to four days.

This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com 

Image credit: iStock

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
34% - 9269 votes
66% - 17914 votes