We’ve all been there. We’ve all slapped the big, red, moldy panic button halfway through a meal or declined that suspicious-looking cheese while on vacation in France. But exactly what happens when you eat mold?
Sh*t, I just ate mold — what now?
Chances are you won’t have any ill effects after eating a bit of mold… but it’s def not something you should actively try to do.
The good news is that mold generally tastes pretty bad, so you’ll likely notice it and spit it out. Even if some does slip past your guard, it’s unlikely to make you sick.
If you’re allergic to mold or you’ve eaten mold that gives off toxic substances (mycotoxins), you might have some more severe symptoms. These can range from vomiting and generally feeling unwell to potential death. Yikes.
If you do start feeling unwell, it’s best to get yourself checked by a medical professional. And if in doubt, throw it out!
After all, mold loves all the same foods you do, including:
- Fruit: such as strawberries, raspberries, oranges, and apples
- Vegetables: especially tomatoes, carrots, and bell peppers
- Bread: the classic mold favorite
- Cheeses: both hard and soft
There are few worse feelings than being halfway through a tasty sandwich, licking your lips after a hearty bite, and then noticing that patch of mold on the underside. Or more accurately, half a patch of mold. Ewwww!
But should you be racing to the nearest hospital? Or can you just pick the bad bits off and keep chowing down?
OK, so you’ve discovered your moldy food halfway through your meal and dry-heaved more than that time you accidentally read your sister’s sexts. What’s going to happen to you now?
Is it always dangerous?
Often, no. In most cases, accidentally eating a bit of mold won’t do you any harm. The worst you’ll experience is probably a bad taste in your mouth and a ruined meal. Time to un-slap that panic button.
You only need to worry about mold if it’s been growing long enough to become mature and give off mycotoxins, poisonous substances that can make you seriously ill.
But you’ll almost certainly notice when food has gone that bad, and you’ll have already thrown it out. Hooray!
Throw those gnarly noms in the trash, give the fridge/cupboard a good clean, and go about your day.
What about food that’s moldy on purpose?
Not all molds are out to get us. We can be friends with some of them, especially the ones that make tasty foods for us.
Cheese is the obvious example. But if you’ve been shying away from types like blue cheese, Gorgonzola, and Camembert, there’s no need. Cheesemakers use strains of mold that can’t produce mycotoxins, so those cheeses are completely safe to eat.
The same goes for other foods and drinks that use molds, such as vinegar and Japanese sake.
(Blessed are the cheesemakers, indeed.)
What does mold do to your body?
Time to get serious. Because if you’ve accidentally eaten some truly heinous mold, it can have some pretty serious effects.
It’s all the fault of those pesky mycotoxins. If you ingest a large amount of them, you might experience symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. How severe the symptoms are will depend on how much mold you’ve eaten, as well as your age and overall health.
Ingesting one particular mycotoxin, aflatoxin, can lead to liver problems, immune system malfunction, and even cancer. Just… don’t mess with mycotoxins, m’kay?
There aren’t many studies on how eating mold can affect people with mold allergies. Most people who are allergic to mold find that breathing it in has worse effects than eating it, including respiratory symptoms.
A small 2009 study suggested that people with mold allergies may be more likely to experience crappy effects if they accidentally take a nibble of the fuzzy stuff. But honestly, until more studies take place, we just don’t know for sure.
It seems like a pretty safe bet that if you do have a mold allergy, accidentally eating a bit of mold won’t affect your bod too much. Keep an eye out for any unexpected symptoms and seek medical attention if they develop. But keep the worry to a minimum.
When should you worry?
Contact a medical professional if you experience any of these symptoms after eating mold:
- itchy eyes
- irritated nose
- sore throat
Don’t get too freaked out, though. Although none of the above are fun, you’re not likely to get seriously ill or die from eating a little mold.
Generally, the worst part is just the thought that you ate mold.
In this case, there’s a big difference between things that are soft and things that are hard (no smirking at the back, please).
Cutting mold from hard foods
Generally, it’s OK to just cut the mold off hard foods and keep on eating. The bacteria finds it tricky to get much of a foothold in solid, dense foods. You’re relatively safe to salvage the following:
- Firm fruits and veggies. Apples, peppers, and carrots should be A-OK.
- Hard cheeses. Your Parmesan and Gorgonzola are safe!
- Salami and dry-cured hams. Yes, that includes steamed hams, Principal Skinner.
Pro tip: Make sure you don’t drag the knife through the fuzzy bits.
Cutting mold from soft foods
Soft foods are another story. Mold finds it super easy to get below the surface, so the whole product could be tainted. These foods are destined for the trash can if they develop mold:
- Soft fruits and veggies. Buh-bye, moldy strawberries, raspberries, and tomatoes.
- Soft cheeses. Bid your moldy cottage cheese and cream cheese adieu.
- Bread. Farewell, moldy bakery products.
- Cooked foods. These are definite no-nos.
- Jelly, Jell-O, and peanut butter. Don’t think you can just scoop it out — moldy PB&J can be seriously bad for you.
- Deli meats, bacon, and hot dogs. Say adios to these.
- Yogurt and cream. Just no.
No one wants to eat mold. And yes, you can cut it off some foods. But what’s the best way to stop it from growing in the first place?
Follow these steps and say sayonara to that effin’ mold:
- Clean the fridge! Once a month should be enough. Give it a good wipe-down and toss anything questionable.
- Check your cleaning supplies. No point trying to keep your fridge or surfaces clean with a moldy cloth or sponge. Replace gross cleaning utensils and products.
- Don’t buy too much food. It might be tempting to go wild in the produce aisle, but it’s best to buy smaller amounts. This reduces the risk of moldy, unused food. Also, food waste is wack.
- Keep your veggies cool. Vegetables have a short shelf life. Keep them in the refrigerator, not a cupboard.
- Check your containers. We all pop food into plastic containers, especially leftovers. Make sure they’re clean.
- Eat those leftovers quickly. Don’t ignore leftovers for more than 3 days at the absolute max.
- Feel the freeze. Not planning to eat that food right away? Pop it in the freezer for better storage.
If you’ve accidentally had a tasty BLTM sandwich (bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mold), you can breathe a sigh of relief — the worst it’s likely to do is offend your taste buds.
Mold tastes (and often is) disgusting. But your chance of experiencing any serious health impact as a result of accidental mold snacking is pretty low.
If you do have a mold allergy or chow down on something super moldy, keep an eye out for any irritations or potential symptoms of an allergic reaction. You’ll almost certainly be OK in the end, but it may be a wild ride on the vomit comet in the meantime.
Contact a medical pro if you’re not feeling well after eating something moldy.
Most of all, keep your fridge and storage spaces clean, so you never have to experience the sinking sensation of realizing there’s mold between your teeth ever again.