Chilly Food: How to Avoid Mold Problems

Written and curated by FridgeMaster William Jackson

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moldy food - do not eat

One of the oldest and most robust organisms in our world, molds are nearly everywhere. Some types are simply a nuisance, but certain ones can make us seriously ill and must be kept to a minimum. With rigorous upkeep of our dwellings, routinely cleaning kitchens and eating areas, and careful food handling, molds can be controlled so they don't make us sick. Read below to learn how to limit mold and enjoy safer food and living areas.

Mold Survives
Mycotoxins and Aflatoxin
Molds are not Bacteria
Clean Your Environment
Food Protection Measures
Water Bath Processing
Are There "Good" Molds?
A Few Last Words

Mold Survives

The organisms we refer to as "molds" are fungi - not very different from larger mushrooms and fungi, but much smaller. Molds are microscopic. There are thousands of different varieties, with different colors, textures, and effectson humans. They need oxygen, moisture, and organic matter to live.

When a mold is on food, food containers, or kitchen surfaces, we often cannot see it, because much of the organism does not have color. A mature mold, which is producing spores, will be more visible, as it is the spores with the most color. Mold will reach deep into a food, changing its taste, texture, and possibly making it unsafe to eat. To be safe, discard any food which becomes moldy and do not buy food with visible mold.

You can't tell how deep a mold's roots go into a food. Do not try to cut off the visible mold and eat the rest! You will eat mold which is below the surface, which may make you sick. Don't do it...

Mycotoxins and Aflatoxin

Mycotoxins are poisonous substances produced by molds. A great many of them appear on grains, nuts, nad a number of fruits or fruit juices. Aflatoxins are a form of mycotoxin. Aflatoxins cause cancer; risk of harm from them is reduced by diligently preventing mold on foods for humans and feeds for livestock.

Molds are not Bacteria

Food safety practices for inhibiting mold are not the same as preventing contamination by bacteria. For one thing, bacteria are more sensitive to temperature. While bacteria greatly slow their growth when temperatures are low, mold continues to grow as long as it gets the oxygen, food, and moisture it needs.

Another important point is curing foods with sugars or salts is not effective against mold. Be aware of this, and do everything possible to prevent your foods - even jams, jerkeys, or salted meats - from being exposed to mold spores. The problem is that mold spores are freely riding in the air, so you must keep your foods mostly sealed. Cook, eat, and store your foods away from sources of dust or unfiltered air.

Clean Your Environment

Molds are resilient organisms. They are difficult to kill and their spores are plentiful. To avoid problems with moldy food and accumulated mold in your cooking and eating areas, follow a few simple rules.

Things to do for mold control:

  1. Wear a mask to avoid breathing spores if you are cleaning surfaces with a lot of mold.
  2. Clean mold free surfaces with (10 ml bleach per liter of water).
  3. Clean moldy surfaces white vinegar. Use a spray bottle; do not mix with water.
  4. Discard any moldy food you have. Moldy food spreads more mold.
  5. Clean the surfaces in your refrigerator every couple of months. Wash all of the surfaces, scrubbing away all mold and grunge. Water and detergent is fine for cleaning. For the last treatment, use water with some bleach.
  6. Scrub all of the surfaces where you cook and eat.
  7. Clean anything which has mold stains or smell moldy.
  8. If possible, air condition / dehumidify to below 40% relative humidity.

Most of the time, keeping your food and living spaces mold free is not difficult. Sometimes, however, your world may seem to explode in mold. No joke, I once had a huge mold outbreak after a solid month of constant rain in the springtime. It took a few days, but the things listed above helped me beat the mold.

Food Protection Measures

Make your food last longer by doing a few smart things to keep the mold spores out. Here is a short list:

  1. During meals, keep food covered to prevent mold floating by in the air.
  2. Foods you want to stay moist should be covered in plastic wrap. Great for fresh vegetables, fruits, and salads.
  3. Move perishable foods into clean storage containers and refrigerate them within two hours.
  4. Leftovers should be eaten within four days. Risk of mold goes upwith time!

Water Bath Processing

For longer periods of storage, heating food to a hot enough temperature will kill mold spores. Many types of mold will die above temperatures of 60-70°C (140-160°F). A workable technique for foods in sealed in waterproof jars or cans is to submerge them in a hot water bath or use a canner, then heat the water gradually to the brink of boiling 100°C (212°F). Sustain that temperature for two or three minutes, then turn off the heat and allow to cool.

Are There "Good" Molds?

Good molds do exist. If you like cheese, you have probably eaten and enjoyed some of the edible molds, such as penicillium roqueforti or penicillium candidum. There is a whole method of preparation which is favorable to the desired mold and suppressive to the unwanted types. Hard salami is another food which may have a bit of surface mold, which is not unusual and may be scraped off before eating.

A Few Last Words

Mold has been in the world far longer than humans, and they are almost everywhere. Breathing mold spores and eating food with mature molds is generally unsafe; reduce your exposure to mold by following the food safety guidelines and putting in the effort to clean your refrigerator, food preparation, and eating areas. You may use heat to treat some foods to prevent mold growth during storage.

A few molds are beneficial. Feel free to enjoy foods, such as cheeses, which may get some of their colors and sharp flavor from certain molds.

If you have environmental mold, on walls, floors, coutertops, or in closets, remove it and make the area clean to avoid being overwhelmed in a mold outbreak.

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