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Molds: Friend or Foe?

July 5, 2012 by Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian

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My partner and I were happily enjoying our sandwiches made with hearty multigrain bread when she suddenly stopped eating, crunched up her face and exclaimed “Yech, this is moldy!”

She’s a super taster when it comes to mold and can detect a single sesame seed that has gone off. I, on the other hand, am a not-so-super mold taster and would otherwise just finish my sandwich without even noticing small amounts of mold.

Some molds are quite helpful to us.


Molds in Food:

Cheese - White molds on the rinds of Brie and Camembert cheese contribute to their smooth creamy texture and unique aroma. Blue molds create striking veins in blue cheeses like Stilton and contribute a peppery taste and distinct aroma.

Soy Foods - Fermented soy sauce, miso and tempeh owe much of their desirable taste and texture to mold fermentation.

Molds in Medicine:

Antibiotics and other drugs - Penicillin and other essential antibiotics were developed from molds, as were some other medications.

Molds in Manufacturing:

Enzymes - Molds are used industrially to produce enzymes that are used in the production of other products. For example, mold can be used to make the enzyme rennet that curds milk for cheese production.

Molds in the Environment:

Decay - Molds play a key role in the break down of organic materials and recycle nutrients back through our ecosystem.


Other molds are clearly harmful, causing mold-induced allergies and respiratory problems. Mold-based toxins can also make people sick.  Mold growth is encouraged by warm and humid settings. Here are some steps you can take to stop the blue fuzzy surprise growing in the container at the back of the fridge, fuzzy green dots on bread, white looking dust on hard cheeses and help protect your food from mold.

Look for mold before you buy the food:

  • in bagged bread - keep it in the freezer if unable to use within a couple days
  • at the stem area of fruit before purchasing and avoid any bruised fruit
  • in cured and cooked meats or in glass jars

Prevent mold growth by:

  • covering food to prevent mold spores in the air from taking hold
  • keeping perishable foods in the refrigerator - don’t leave any perishables out of the fridge longer than 2 hours
  • using clean storage containers when putting away leftovers and store in the fridge as soon as possible
  • using leftovers within 3 to 4 days 
  • cleaning the inside of the fridge every few months to limit the risk of mold growth and cross-contamination with food
  • using a new dishcloth daily or regularly clean dishcloths or sponges—if they smell musty, mold is growing on them.
  • washing the dish cloth out after each use, using hot water and detergent and leave to air dry before reusing; 
  • carefully handling moldy foods to prevent spreading mold spores around – check other surrounding foods to make sure the mold did not spread

Most foods, especially soft foods, with unwanted mold should be thrown away. Do not sniff the food if you think there is mold, just throw it in the garbage with a secure lid. Hard cheeses or vegetables with surface mold can still be used if you cut off the moldy part as well as at least an additional inch (2.5 cm).  Carefully clean anything that touched the mold with hot soapy water to prevent cross contamination.

Unexpected encounters with mold can be jarring and tend to stick in our memories.

Do you have any mold stories to share?


Recommended links:
Molds on Foods: Are They Dangerous?
CFIA Mycotoxins Fact Sheet

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