Just the thought of putting something in our mouths that contains mold makes us gag, and rightfully so, because our bodies have developed mechanisms to keep us from eating foods that can be dangerous to our health, and mold can be that.
What happens if we accidentally bite into something with mold or eat part of a food after the moldy part has been removed?
Fortunately, as much as it disgusts us, most likely nothing will happen unless we are allergic to some type of fungus or have a very weakened immune system. In this case, a more or less severe allergic reaction may occur. The most common reactions are respiratory – although they are more likely to occur with the mold we inhale than with the mold we ingest such as:
- Stomach upset
- And diarrhea.
The real risk of eating food with mold is that it may contain mycotoxins. These are substances produced by some species of fungi that are toxic to our bodies and can cause serious health problems in high doses and over a long period of time. Therefore, to avoid risks, it is best to avoid contact with these substances.
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What are mycotoxins and how do they affect us?
Mycotoxins, or fungal poisons, are substances produced by various species of molds, such as:
Under the right conditions of temperature (usually maximum production is between 24º and 28º) and humidity, these mycotoxins are produced naturally in the secondary metabolism of some fungal genera and can grow in foods, either during cultivation or storage.
Mycotoxins pose a serious risk to human and animal health as they can become carcinogenic, cause mutagenicity (DNA damage) or problems in estrogen metabolism, the gastrointestinal tract or the kidneys.
Others can also weaken the immune system and make us more susceptible to infections. For this reason, there are some of these mycotoxins for which competent bodies such as EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) have established toxicological reference values. Also, as exposure limits and controls in the food chain.
What can we do to avoid them?
It is almost 100% impossible to avoid mycotoxins, as they are substances naturally present in some foods, both unprocessed, such as cereals, oilseeds, fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee, cocoa and spices. Especially in cereal products (bread, pasta…), beverages (wine, coffee, cocoa, beer, fruit juices), animal origin milk and cheese) and baby food. Therefore, it is best to avoid exposure as much as possible and prevent the appearance of mold on food, and to do this we must these guidelines:
- Storage of food at low humidity and appropriate temperature depending on the product.
- Do not leave cooked food out of the refrigerator for more than two hours and always keep it covered.
- Keep storage areas such as the refrigerator and pantry clean.
In addition, green and white molds are generally considered safe, with some exceptions, while brown molds should be avoided.
Cabrales type cheese is also safe, not only because the mushrooms used for its production are harmless, but because it is produced in a refrigerator and therefore the spreading of mycotoxins is minimal.
And if a food item already has mold, what do we do?
It’s always safer to throw them away. The mold is only the visible part of the fungal colony, which has most likely spread to other parts of the food, even if we don’t see it. Also, some moldy foods may contain bacteria that grow on these fungi.
Among the food that needs to be thrown away, you can always find it:
- Sausage and smoked meat.
- Any kind of cooked meat and stews of any kind.
- Cereals and their derivatives, such as bread, pasta,…
- Yogurt, sour cream, or soft or spreadable cheeses.
- Fruits and vegetables.
- Dried fruits and their derivatives, such as cocoa or peanut cream
Only certain hard foods in which mushrooms spread more slowly, such as carrots, squash, hard sausage or aged cheese, can be stored. However, trim at least a few inches off the edge.
Avoiding danger and being cautious does not mean that you will get sick from biting into a moldy sandwich because, as we have already said, there is a good chance that nothing will happen.