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Is mold a friend, or a foe? Basically, it all depends
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Whether or not a moldy piece of food is edible depends on the type of food. Some items are okay to eat, others can be eaten if the mold is carefully eliminated, and some should simply be thrown out.

However, if the mold is growing on a soft piece of food, the item should not be eaten. Repeated ingestion of moldy food can cause serious illness, allergic reactions and even cancer.

There are over 100,000 different species of mold, although the exact number is unknown and is estimated to be as high as 300,000.

The most famous type of mold is Penicillium chrysogenum, the mold that the first antibiotic, penicillin, was created from.
Penicillium chrysogenum is commonly found in nature and on household food items, and is relatively harmless if ingested. However, when the spores are airborne, this mold can cause allergic reactions, proving that even the beneficial mold can be bad for one’s health.

Though there is a wide variety of molds that can grow on food, it is nearly impossible for the average person to distinguish between the harmless types and the types that are hazardous to one’s health. This is why moldy food, especially soft food, should never be eaten. However, here are four moldy foods you can eat, with certain precautions (but if it’s completely covered with mold, throw it away):

1. Hard salami and dry-cured country hams. Apparently it’s normal for these products to have a surface mold. The USDA’s advice is to just scrub the mold off the surface and then use.

2. Hard cheese made without mold. For cheeses where mold isn’t part of the processing, mold generally can’t get deep into the product. For hard cheeses, such as Asiago, Pecorino, Parmesan and Cheddar, lop off at least 1 inch around and below the mold spot (to avoid cross-contamination, be careful not to touch the mold with the knife).

3. Hard cheese made with mold. If these cheeses, such as Gorgonzola and Stilton, have a surface mold on them, you can use them if you cut off at least 1 inch around and below the mold spot.

4. Firm fruits and vegetables. The key word here is firm (think: cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, etc.). Like the hard cheeses made without mold, dense fruits and vegetables are not easily penetrated by mold.

The same rule of thumb applies to firm produce: cut off at least an inch around and below the mold spot (again, not touching the mold with your knife) before using.

Mold is made up of three parts —the roots, the stem and the spores. The spores are responsible for the color of the mold, and they have the ability to spread the mold and penetrate one’s lungs if inhaled. However, all three distinct parts of the mold are equally dangerous if ingested.

The roots of the mold spread far beyond what the eye can see, which is why it is crucial to cut at least a one-inch in diameter area for moldy pieces of hard cheese before consumption. For soft pieces of cheese and non-cured meats, it is impossible to tell how far the mold roots have spread and the food should be immediately thrown away.

Also, wash your hands after handling moldy food, as well as any utensils that may have come in contact with the moldy food.

Think safety rather than frugally when it comes to dealing with moldy food. If you have further questions about mold please contact me at 478-542-0454 or your health care provider.

Ward is a personal fitness trainer and nutrition counselor in Richmond Hill. For specific advice, she can be reached at 478-542-0454.”

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