Today’s Solutions: December 06, 2023

We’ve all been there— ready for a healthy snack and excitedly reaching into the fridge for a container full of deliciously juicy and vibrant berries, only to find that one or two of them have been colonized by a horrible white-ish blue-ish fuzz. Mold strikes again!

But does that mean the whole box is compromised?

Before you throw the lot of them into your compost bin, food safety experts have some good news. While you should definitely refrain from eating the moldy berries (and for the purposes of this article, even though berries like strawberries and raspberries aren’t technically true berries, we’ll be referring to them as such), the ones without any signs of fuzz are fine to eat.

Benjamin Chapman, a professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University explains that, unlike other food safety concerns that could go undetected by the naked eye, moldy berries are quite easy to identify. When Dr. Chapman notices a couple of moldy berries in his basket, “[he doesn’t] throw out the whole thing.” Instead, after removing the obviously moldy ones, he puts the rest through careful inspection before eating.

He notes that it’s best to eat the rest quickly to avoid more food waste as lingering mold spores can spread and develop within one or two days.

Some kinds of mold produce toxins that are harmful if consumed and for some, will trigger allergic reactions. However, even if you accidentally consume a bit of mold along with your berries, Elizabeth Mitcham, professor and director of the Postharvest Technology Center at the University of California, Davis, reassures us that the molds commonly found on berries “are actually not known to produce toxins, as some fungi do, and so there’s less risk.”

We are likely consuming small amounts of mold spores all the time in most of the fresh produce we eat. They can be carried by air or water, live in soil, and are likely already in a plant’s flowers or fruit before the fruit even ripens. But we shouldn’t worry. “I’m likely consuming mold spores all the time,” Dr. Chapman says. “And those mold pores are not making me sick.”

Molds do become dangerous if they are found deep within a food product, where some kinds can produce toxins. For berries, though, this isn’t normally a problem as they’re usually small in size. 

Some tips that will help keep mold away from your berry basket are to inspect berries carefully before purchasing them, check your fruit at home and remove anything visibly moldy before storing your new berries, and then refrigerate as soon as possible. Dr. Mitcham also suggests refraining from washing the berries until right before you plan to eat or use them, as moisture encourages mold growth.

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