It happens to everyone, especially as summer months bring warmer temperatures and higher humidity. You tear into a hunk of bread or take a bite of a sandwich, and instead of a nutty, wholesome flavor, you taste an unmistakably bitter hit of mold. You take a closer look and spot the telltale fuzz of green, gray, and black mold. Now what?
“Always avoid any food, including bread, that shows signs of mold,” says Omar Oyarzabal, assistant professor of food safety at the University of Vermont Extension. Although we live in the age of ultra-processed and pasteurized foods, mold is still an everyday part of our lives. If your bread looks moldy, don’t think you can get away with throwing out the green-gray bits—mold has microscopic hair-like roots that spread far below the surface where it’s visible and will have permeated the entire loaf. While the best practice is to examine food thoroughly for signs of mold before sinking your teeth into it, let’s face it: Not everyone can be totally vigilant all the time.
What’s Going To Happen If You Eat It Anyway
While most bread molds are fairly innocuous, some people experience adverse reactions to eating it—not because of toxins in the mold itself, but as a result of the allergic responses it can trigger. One common mold, penicillium (which is used to produce penicillin) often appears on bread. For people who are allergic to mold, ingesting it can trigger severe allergic responses that can result in sudden drop in blood pressure, difficulty in breathing and, in extremely rare cases, cardiovascular collapse. If you take a bite of tainted bread, be alert to symptoms, and seek medical attention if you start to have an allergic response. But if you don’t have a mold allergy and you accidentally eat a bit of bread mold? “Don’t panic,” advises Oyarzabal. “In most cases for mold to be harmful, mold exposure has to accumulate over the long term.”
How To Avoid Getting Mold In The First Place
Note that while you should do a visual inspection of your food before you buy it (and ideally before you bite into it), you should not smell it for signs of mold. Inhaling mold can trigger allergic responses such as sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, nasal congestion, and itchy nose, mouth, and lips.
At home, the first and most important step to preventing mold is cleanliness. When mold grows, its spores can stick to any nearby surface: the inside of your refrigerator, dish cloths, food storage containers, and even countertops and the sponges you use to clean them. According to the USDA, to suppress mold growth, keep household and fridge humidity to below 40 percent. Clean the inside of your fridge every couple of months with a disinfectantsolution of one tablespoon baking soda dissolved in a quart of water. If there is visible mold, scrub it with three teaspoons of vinegar in a quart of water. If your dishcloths smell musty, it’s time to throw them away—don’t try to clean them or throw them in the laundry; chances are you’ll just be spreading the mold spores even further.
The Bottom Line
Consuming a moldy chunk of bread is unlikely to have any acute or severe health effects unless you have a serious allergy. But mold toxins can build up over time, so it’s important to limit your exposure. That’s not good news for yesterday’s artisanal whole grain loaf that’s already looking a little fuzzy. “Compost it,” says Oyarzabal. “There is an old adage in the food industry: Better safe than sorry.”