Jean Ince | County Extension Agent Staff Chair
Suddenly you get hunger pangs and decide that a snack would be perfect. Nothing sounds better than some of those wonderful grapes you bought last week on sale. But, when you go to the refrigerator and open the crisper drawer, you are faced with a disgusting, fur-covered mass, where your grapes should be. Mold has made a home on your fruit.
Molds have been around for over three million years, so the likelihood we will eliminate their presence is slim. As much as we may dislike them covering our foods, consider what would happen if we didn’t have them.
Some molds perform valuable functions in our lives. For example, they age and flavor cheese. They are also used in bread making, fermenting liquor, producing soy sauce, producing penicillin and manufacturing citric acid used to flavor soft drinks.
Despite these good functions, many people think only of the bad things they do. For example, almost everyone can cite cases where mold has hastened food spoilage. People in warm, moist climates are also very aware of the allergy and respiratory problems molds can cause. There are even a few molds that, under the right conditions, can produce mycotoxins or poisons.
The question for you is how can you know if the mold you find in your refrigerator is a good one or one that is dangerous? Unfortunately, the answer is, you can’t. Your best approach to safety is to learn and practice some simple guidelines for avoiding mold growth and handling moldy foods you encounter.
While molds prefer warmer temperatures, many can grow in the refrigerator. Since they produce spores, which may become airborne, it is easy for these spores to accumulate in the enclosed refrigerator and infect foods. To reduce the possibility of contamination in your refrigerator, clean it every few months with a solution made of 1 tablespoon baking soda in a quart of water. Rinse with clear water. Scrub any visible mold growth on rubber gaskets with 3 tablespoons of bleach in a quart of water.
Keep dishcloths, towels, sponges and mops clean. Unfortunately, here is where mold loves to live. If they have a musty smell, they are probably already spreading mold and should be washed in hot, soapy water.
At the grocery store, don’t knowingly buy moldy foods. Examine packages of fresh fruits, vegetables, and cured meats carefully for mold growth. Check around the stem areas of produce since this is where mold growth frequently begins.
People with allergies are especially vulnerable to mold, since mold spores are in the air. So, protect foods sitting out for serving by covering with plastic wrap. Be sure perishable foods are not kept at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.
Many people ask if food is ruined if it begins to mold. The answer to this depends on the texture of the food and the amount of mold on it. In general, a firm or hard food with only a little bit of mold can be saved by cutting away the mold plus at least an inch of food from around the moldy spot. Be sure the knife does not slice through the mold since this is a good way to spread mold throughout the food.
This procedure works for hard cheeses, hard salami, country ham, smoked turkey and firm fruits and vegetables. With soft foods like jams and jellies, soft cheeses, bread products, and soft fruits and vegetables, there is no way to know how deep the mold has penetrated; therefore, the product should be discarded if mold appears.
Moldy corn-on-the-cob, nuts, flour, grains, dried peas and beans and peanut butter should be discarded immediately. Mold that grows on these products can produce very dangerous toxins.
Finally, if you suspect a food has mold, don’t sniff it to see if it smells spoiled. Inhaling mold spores may lead to respiratory problems.
There are federal inspection programs for many crops aimed at ensuring foods are mold-free when they reach the marketplace; however, ultimately the responsibility for protecting foods in your home from spoilage organisms like mold rests with you.
For more information on handling foods safely, or a food storage chart, contact the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service in Howard County at 870-845-7517, e-mail email@example.com or visit our office located on the second floor of the courthouse.
Recipe of the Week
Here is recipe that was featured last week at the annual 4-H Dairy Foods Contest. This recipe was prepared by Anthony Trombley, a member of the Nature Seekers 4-H Club. This recipe is easy to make and is great for reunions!
Ice Box Cake
24 graham crackers
2 lbs. strawberries, sliced (save a few whole berries for garnish)
3 cups heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
Chocolate, melted, for garnish
Whip heavy cream and sugar until stiff peaks form. Spread small amount of whipped cream in the bottom of a 13×9-in. pan. Add a layer of graham crackers followed by a layer of whipped cream and a layer of strawberries. Repeat until you have four layers of graham crackers. Garnish with whole strawberries and melted chocolate. Refrigerate at least four hours before serving.