Well, what exactly is mold? According to the USDA, molds are microscopic fungi that live on plant or animal matter. They’re filamentous organisms that produce spores, which gives it the color you can see aka that lovely green-speckled pattern often visible to the naked eye. But aside from the not-so-enticing appearance, can eating this fungus really harm you, or are we just all freaking out for no real reason?
Should I be worried if I ate moldy bread?
Don't worry: Swallowing the fuzzy green stuff isn't likely going to do your body harm. The most awful part about eating mold is probably realizing you ate mold. Even though it might make you gag, being totally grossed out is typically the worst thing to result. "In all likelihood, nothing bad will happen to you—especially if you have a healthy immune system," said SciShow host Michael Aranda in a YouTube video.
So, when can you get sick from eating moldy bread?
As relieving as it may be to hear that *most* cases of ingested moldy bread won’t lead to anything serious, it is important to note that getting sick from moldy bread is possible, though rare. Since mold is a type of fungus, some people can be allergic to it. According to Aranda, those allergies aren't often serious, but there have been cases where eating mold-infested food has been deadly. Aside from the allergy issue, the other problem with eating mold is the mycotoxins it contains. "These are chemicals various molds make under certain conditions that are toxic to humans and other creatures," he says. "For the most part, if you consume a little bit once or twice, you'll probably be okay. But in larger doses, or over longer periods of time, they can become an issue."
"In all likelihood, nothing bad will happen to you—especially if you have a healthy immune system." —Michael Aranda
What are the symptoms of eating moldy bread?
Although you may be tempted to do so, avoid taking a sniff of the moldy bread to confirm if it’s actually gone bad. Research shows that inhaling mold spores—especially for those that have asthma—can pose dangerous threats and, in some instances, could lead to respiratory illnesses, difficulty breathing, or in rare cases, anaphylaxis.
How do you know if mold is toxic?
And as mentioned before, exposure to mycotoxins in larger doses can lead to more severe consequences like acute toxicity that includes gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, or liver disease, according to studies on its effects.
How long does it take to get sick from mold exposure?
Although there isn’t a universal answer that encompasses all types of mold exposure, the onset of sickness can vary from person to person, depending on a few factors. These include predisposed sensitivities or allergies to mold, the amount that’s ingested or inhaled, and the type of mold present. Sickness from mold exposure can be anywhere from immediate to delayed; thus, it’s best to seek the help of a medical professional if severe symptoms begin to develop.
How to handle moldy food
So what's the best way to handle moldy food? It depends on the type of mold and types of foods that tend to grow mold more quickly than others. Since it's easier for mold to spread in softer foods because of the way it grows—whether that's bread, cheese, meat, or dips—it should be thrown away ASAP. With harder foods like carrots, strawberries, or hard cheeses, Aranda says it doesn't spread as easily, so the mold is probably just in the areas you can see. Because of that, you could cut out the yucky spots and enjoy the rest if you want to—but overall, it's best not to take your chances.
"If you see mold on food, there's a good chance it's also loaded with bacteria by that point, which means, mycotoxin or not, you could still get sick. It's better to play it safe and find another snack," he explains.
Looking for another way to do bread? Here's how to make Paleo-friendly bread:
How to make your bread last longer
Of course, the one thing you can do to prevent mold from forming is to learn the best way to store your bread and keep bread fresh for longer in the first place. "The best place to store bread is in a cool, dry place in your kitchen," registered dietitian Melissa Rifkin, RD, says. "This is where bread boxes come in handy since they only allow a small amount of air to circulate, keeping the bread from molding." She adds that if your counter space is limited, a cabinet will work, too. "When storing bread in a breadbox, cabinet, or drawer, just make sure the location is not near a heat-producing appliance," Rifkin says. "Placing your bread on top of a fridge or next to the stovetop that produces heat is a sure way to increase mold production."
If you want to have on hand a bread that will last longer than a couple of days, Artisan Sourdough Made Simple ($17) author and The Clever Carrot creator Emilie Raffa says to go for sourdough. "The naturally occurring enzymes in sourdough act as a natural preservative, keeping homemade bread fresher for longer. The addition of fat also helps," she says.
Rifkin says that another way to keep mold from sprouting on your bread as easily is to store it in the freezer. "You can thaw individual slices of bread overnight in the fridge before you plan to use the next day," she says. Raffa cosigns the freezer as a good place to store bread you aren't going to eat right away. "If you’re worried about mold, waste, or storage options, go small: cut your recipes in half and freeze whatever you’re not using to enjoy at a later date," she says.
If your bread is stale but hasn't started getting moldy yet, both experts say not to throw it out just yet. "If your bread has become stale, you can toast it then pulse in a food processor to create breadcrumbs to use in recipes," Rifkin says. She also likes using stale bread to make croutons by cutting it into cubes, tossing it with olive oil, and baking in the oven.
All these tips can help your bread last longer and prevent mold from forming as quickly, but if you do discover you're munching on mold, don't freak out: You'll probably be okay (mental and emotional scars notwithstanding). Just take a closer look next time so you avoid the ickiness and the possibility of getting sick.
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