What happens if I eat mold?

A common concern people have is the outcome of eating food that is moldy. This happens when you are not paying attention to what you are eating and suddenly realize that you just ate half a sandwich made with bread that has some mold on it. Then you go “Oh, crap, I just ate some mold” and then you google it to find out if you are going to die ….

As with all things you eat, the first thing that must be said is this: If you are allergic to it, then you probably shouldn’t have eaten it. But, we’ll ignore that because if you are actually allergic to “mold” (or some subset of molds) than you already know what to do or not do.

Otherwise, the answer to the question is: There’s good news and bad news. First the good news. Mold is generally not bad for you (some molds are even good for you, or otherwise enhance food, as in those fancy smelly French cheeses). If you ate mold, just don’t worry. If you feel sick then maybe the mold is a problem, but most likely it isn’t.

The bad news is simple: If the food is moldy, then it may be old and otherwise contaminated with bacteria and stuff that is not good for you. If you are in a high risk group for such things, or pregnant and trying to avoid listeria, etc., then you might want to avoid old rotten food, and the mold itself, while not harmful, is a clue that the food is old.

As a general rule, soft food is more risky if it is moldy, while hard food (like hard cheese) can be cleaned up by scraping or slicing away the moldy part.

In my personal opinion, First Worlders are more worried about rotten food than they need to be, and throw away a lot of perfectly good food. Try to be less squeamish and check your priv before discarding things that scare you.

Comments

  1. #1 Lorax
    April 21, 2012

    I certainly do not disagree with you. That said, I will now disagree with you and point out that some molds, particularly certain strains of Aspergillus species make mycotoxins, which can be problematic if not outrightly lethal. However, the mold growing on your bread is almost certainly a benign zygomycetes like rhizopus. I simply discard the mold parts or cut it away, in the case of cheese, and go on my happy culinary way.

  2. #2 mark
    April 21, 2012

    How much stuff (apples, oranges, etc.) that are unappealing to the eater are used in the food industry to make juices and prepared foods? And who would want to eat cereal made with fermented grain?

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    April 21, 2012

    Fermented grain? Ick! But if you do eat some, wash it down with a beer…

  4. #4 scidogs
    April 22, 2012

    we have all noticed that the major brands of bread last much longer than the ones from the local bake shop.
    which makes me wonder if it’s better to eat bake shop bread that shows a moldy spot where perhaps the kitchen area was not %100 clean or go with the Big Brand that lasts and lasts and eat whatever it is they put into it to keep it “fresh”

  5. #5 MadScientist
    April 22, 2012

    Oh no – the spores are everywhere! Except for the possibly horrible bitter taste produced by some of the common molds, most molds are pretty harmless (a few uncommon ones can produce toxins that’ll make you feel pretty miserable). However, I must admit that whenever I’m possessed to develop a sourdough culture I can’t help wondering if those white granules are a type of yeast I want or Candida Albicans – they all look alike to the unaided eye.

  6. #6 The Phytophactor
    April 22, 2012

    A yucky appearance and odor are microorganisms’ way of competing with the macrofauna for islands of resource. Getting eaten is the ultimate competitive loss, so the sooner the mold makes something look distasteful the more successful it is in obtaining resources. Unfortunately for some (those of smelly cheeses for example) we have learned to like the yuckiness thus demonstrating that in many cases the food is still edible but rendered distasteful, itself an instinctive reaction to help avoid those microorganisms that are not harmless. But this just shows what a competitor Greg is.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    April 22, 2012

    PhytoPhactor, this copmetition theory has been around for quite a while and I used to think it a good idea, but I am no longer so convinced, for several reasons. First, it is very human centric; just because we are repulsed does not mean that other organisms are (plus as you point out, depending on the exact nature of the repulsive smell or sight, we may actually pay extra!). Second, if it is not backed up by truth, it is hard to defend; the noxious smell/look that covers something perfectly edible is not an evolutionary stable strategy.

    I’m wonding if there is something else going on.

  8. #8 Roland
    April 22, 2012

    What happens if you eat mushrooms? Depends on the mushroom.

  9. #9 Sara
    April 23, 2012

    Check your priv? What the heck does that mean?

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    April 23, 2012

    Sara, in well fed relatively wealthy western cultures we get to throw away food that is still edible but annoys us in some way or another. Like, it’s half eaten, has a bit of mold, is like something we ate for lunch and don’t want to eat the same thing twice in one day. That is a privilege we happen to have that others do not.

  11. #11 Nicole
    January 4, 2013

    Little itty bitty white spot on the crust- can I just scrape it off and eat the bread? I hate wasting a whole slice. I get the “hard food” rule but how contaminated is my soft bread?

  12. #12 Nicole
    January 4, 2013

    Also, toasting the bread- does that kill the mold and does that matter anyway? I keep my bread in the fridge because it lasts until its sell-by date that way, but my brother keeps moving it to the cupboard and it keeps getting mold spots within days of his doing that. I can’t afford to keep throwing out the loaves he moves out of the fridge :( Good bread ain’t cheap!

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    January 4, 2013

    Nicole, if I was you, I’d scrape the mold off, and give those pieces to your brother.

  14. #14 Jeffrey
    Hoffmann Lab
    January 5, 2013

    Hmm….. Got me thinking about making some LSD. Paging Dr. Walter Bishop!!!!!

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    January 5, 2013

    What could possibly go wrong?

  16. #16 josh
    Canada
    June 22, 2013

    With bread and cheese I usually just remove the moldy bit and continue to eat it. However I just set my beer down in the garage for a few minutes, and when I went to take another drink I apparently picked up a different can that had been sitting there open for awhile. I took a decent smallow before the taste hit me, and when I dumped it out there was a thick skin of mold that came out… I should be fine though right? On the other hand I’m grossed out enough that it would be pretty easy to go purge right now.

  17. #17 catherine
    Cleveland
    June 23, 2013

    what about mold in pasta sauce, I didn’t realize it had mold on side of jar and lid before we ate some of it?

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    June 23, 2013

    Catherine, probably no big deal. Just think of it as pasta sauce with a little extra cheese in it.

    But, it would have been better to not eat it because the mold indicates it is old, and has been exposed to air, so there could be bacteria in there you would not want to eat. But probably it’s not as bad as eating a three day old rotten monkey or something.

  19. #19 Neil
    Colorado
    July 5, 2013

    “Check your priv” is extremely unprofessional. I recommend you focus your grammar skills to a wider audience.

  20. #20 Tawny
    July 10, 2013

    Going round in circles – I want to tell you that I’m really annoyed that someone in the world has shortened ‘check your privilege’ to ‘check your priv’, which is stupid and annoying, and then I privilege-check myself and say OH MY GOD WHY DOES ANYTHING ON THE INTERNET MATTER

  21. #21 Mckenzie
    62827 ch
    August 13, 2013

    I did the dishes and I ate romon noodles and I ate mold that was 2 weeks old what do I do

  22. #22 Cindy Linch
    August 31, 2013

    Nicole, put your bread in the freezer and take out a few slices at a time – it thaws quickly.

  23. #23 Audra
    Arizona
    September 22, 2013

    I have to laugh at this thread… in a good way. I was wondering if the tortilla I ate might have been moldy because another in the bag was. It was from a local tortilla place in MX, and I knew it wouldn’t last as long commercially manufactured tortillas. I think I’ll be fine, even if there was a bit of mold on it (my smell check suggested there was not), and it was good to be reminded that this is a first-world problem. And, at that, many in our relatively wealthy western culture don’t have the same privileges to throw food away, either. As a teacher, I laughed both at the comments regarding “check your priv” (I did not know what that meant at first), and also #20’s response to her feelings about it. Any of us who have participated in this conversation should feel immensely blessed that 1) we can care about a ‘bit of mold,’ and 2) that we have the resources available to us to immediately check online to see what repercussions there might be. Thank you for reminding me of this!

  24. #24 Aaliyah Talley
    October 3, 2013

    What if your sick already then eat mold….are you gonna die from it? And what will happen if youe allergic to it in you eat it yourself……

  25. #25 Grammar Nazi
    Miami
    November 8, 2013

    I totally disaprove of that “check your priv” construction, Greg. People like you are the reason why America and the whole world are headed south. Check your “privs” now!

  26. #26 yash
    india
    January 19, 2014

    Don’t forget ergot (Claviceps purpurea fungus) poisoning. Drinking milk post consumption may mitigate the toxicity to a certain level.

  27. #27 Mary Jo Martin
    Monticello, Ky
    January 30, 2014

    Several days ago while juicing raw veggies etc. I found mold growing on some of the foods. I cut the portions off the veggies, washed them and juiced them. i also discovered a little bit of mold growing on the exterior of my ginger root which had been refrigerated and as I cut it off I discovered that quite a bit of the inside was also bluish. I googled to discover that SOME ginger IS blue, but this was NOT the case with mine. It had started out whitish/yellowish. I continued to use it anyway thinking it must be from the cold/moisture in the fridge that turned it that color. The next day I was sick with fever, aches, and nausea/vomitting diarrhea. Now the reason I am puzzled is because I was also exposed to a stomach bug with those same symptoms two days prior while with my grandchildren. Soooo my question for you is: Do you think I was sick from the ginger root or the virus? Would those be the reactions/symptoms of eating moldy food? I have quite a bit of green juice with ginger I would still like to drink !!! Thanks so much for your time and knowledge.
    Mary Jo Martin

  28. #28 Greg Laden
    January 30, 2014

    I cant’ give you medical advice. But if it was me, I’d do two things: 1) Assume it was a virus unrelated to the mold, because that is usually the case; and 2) Throw out the ginger juice anyway just in case!

  29. #29 samfish
    United States
    March 28, 2014

    I know this is totally unrelated, but I accidentally fed my fish a crumb of bread from a cookie I was eating. I’m pretty sure that there was only about 3, very small cookie crumbs… Do you think this would affect them in a harmful way?

  30. #30 Rosie
    Minnesota
    April 16, 2014

    I ate green Jell-o (with mandarin orange slices) which had mold on it. It had been refrigerated since its first use… about 2 weeks before. Why did it get moldy? I removed the mold which was mostly on top on the floating orange slices. Have not gotten sick yet.

  31. #31 Greg Laden
    April 16, 2014

    Yeah, but now you might need to read this…

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2011/02/20/why-is-my-poop-green/

  32. #32 Lane
    New Jersey
    May 4, 2014

    I found a Britia water bottle in my cabinet that I used two years ago when we went to Disney. It had some water in the bottom but did not smell. I washed it out and used it at work. I had rinsed off the filter and thought it was fine. I drank about half the bottle of water, 6 oz. and my stomach has not felt right. It just aches, I have no appetite and I feel like I drank mold infested water! Is it in my head or did I make myself sick? Any suggestions for feeling better?

  33. #33 mitchel
    Hollywood,CA
    July 9, 2014

    will your wright about 2 things i was like omg and searching google but i didnt eat mold i was eating chips and i felt like eating chip dip and wasnt looking at the bottle and just dipping my chips and then my little brother was like can i get some and i said yes and i look at the bottle and i saw mold i was like ewww i almost ate mold.

  34. #34 Erin
    59pope
    July 13, 2014

    I gust ate a small of mold whit shod I do

  35. #35 Greg Laden
    July 13, 2014

    You’ll bi fine

  36. #36 diana
    United States
    August 8, 2014

    I bought cherry preserves yesterday at the supermarket. The expiration date is October 2015. I opened it and in the corner there was a small amount of white. I thought it might be crystallized sugar so I scooped it out and threw that part away. I took a few teaspoons and put it on my toast then put it in the oven (I eat my jelly hot) it didn’t occur to me it might be mold. I’m 38 weeks pregnant will we be ok. What should I look out for?

  37. #37 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2014

    I’m not a doctor but it sounds like you’ll be fine.

  38. #38 Tina nicole
    August 28, 2014

    I ate 2 week old tuna mixed with mayo. I was hungry, it was there. Brown and green.

    Still here a year later. No ill effects whatsoever. Lol.

  39. #39 Greg Laden
    August 28, 2014

    Well, there you go!

  40. #40 Karin
    pa
    August 30, 2014

    I must say that you are a patient man. Reading your post was reassuring and the comments after were quite entertaining, esp the ones about your grammar. I think they need a little more mold (or fiber, whatever) in their diet and not worry about such things. I myself, ate the opposite end of a moldy tom and hope I will live to see tomorrow and visit your site again.

  41. #41 Julie
    Detroit
    September 6, 2014

    I discovered mold on a bit of crust after most of a peanut butter sandwich. I am allergic to penicillin. Should I be concerned?

  42. #42 asti
    houston
    September 6, 2014

    didn’t look and heated up a bowl of already cooked pasta from the fridge. went back for more hour later . that’s when I noticed the green spots. threw it out of course, but concerned about my health. will this make me sick?

  43. #43 Greg Laden
    September 6, 2014

    The mold is unlikely to hurt you.

  44. #44 Lynn
    September 7, 2014

    Slightly off topic.
    That black mold growing on the drywall is not likely to hurt you either, unless you are allergic to it. I would not recommend eating it.

  45. #45 Greg Laden
    September 7, 2014

    Better to scrape the mildew off the drywall before eating it!

  46. #46 Emma
    Scotland
    September 13, 2014

    I bought a pack of pork pies yesterday which were well within date. Started eating the pastry first when I noticed there was a whiteness on the inside of the pastry and tasted bitter.. Anyway bought more pies today which didnt any white stuff in them and tasted very freah. Could that have been tmould in the pies rfrom yesterday

  47. #47 Greg Laden
    September 13, 2014

    I would guess the white substance was fat.

  48. #48 Not so smart
    United States
    October 3, 2014

    Be careful of you are allergic. Once I ate some green peppers which were 1.5 to 2 weeks old, already cut up in tupperware. I was working on my computer picking it up and dipping it in hummus. Less then 20 minutes later I got hot and cold flashes, my heart rate and blood pressure increased…I felt dizzy, had some problems with trying to breathe….couldn’t swallow my air…..several coworkers at the hospital I worked at thought it was a heart attack. I went to ER…they kept me overnight couldn’t find anything wrong. Kept commenting while I slept that I had low to good blood pressure. After all the tests they said my heart was normal, my cholesterol was only 2 points to high (great for being 110 pounds overweight!) Had no other medical 8 sues contributing to this mysterious heart problem.
    And they couldn’t find 1 reason for my “heart surge”. 2 weeks later I was recounting story to an EMT friend who pointed out my symptoms sounded like an allergic reaction. My moral is, if you have quick or reactive type allergies to mold don’t eat it and get help right away. I don’t let my food so long and if I forget about food in the fridge, I throw it out. I won’t go through that again.

  49. #49 Me, Myself and I
    The Universe
    October 24, 2014

    I live in a pretty small town on one acre of land. I have a very large garden. This is my first time growing sunflowers, and when I picked the seed heads, they had mold on them. Being very busy, I left the seeds in the basement still on the seed head for about 2 weeks. I took the seeds off the seed heads, sorted them (removed the moldy ones), and rinsed them in water. About a day or two later, I boiled the seeds in salt water and then roasted them. When I tried them, the seed inside the shell was a brownish black. The seeds themselves smell like McDonalds food and were kind of squishy and weird. NOT a good sign! Several people have eaten them. My mom says they are fine. I bet it’s fine this once but should I throw them out? I have about 3-4 gallons worth of seeds (my garden is not small). I don’t want to throw them out. It seems very wasteful. Should I? Will they hurt me and anyone who eats them. Also, y’all are saying all these things about bread, freeze the bread until you are ready to use it. A little mold can be cut off. I can tomato sauce, salsa, pickles, and marinara sauce. The veggies I use to make the stuff are NOT the kind you would choose at the grocery store (they are moldy and have often sat around for several weeks. Looks can be very deceiving. I just cut off the bad parts and cook them. I’m still perfectly fine and so are everyone who has eaten them. So for a little mold, just cut it off. You won’t get sick, trust me.

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