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The Fridge: molds’ breeding ground


It’s a common experience in the life of a college student (and some of us old enough to know better). It’s late at night and you’re hungry. The top Ramen is all gone and you go questing in the fridge for something to eat. Last week’s pizza has started to look a bit crusty and that sandwich you told yourself you’d eat later has started to grow fur. You hunt through the fridge and in your search you find something truly horrifying. It’s a plastic container containing chocolate pudding that you put there 10 months ago and completely forgot about! An entire ecosystem of mold has formed and it’s only the plastic lid that is holding back the noxious odors from carrying out an attack run on your olfactory senses. The best thing you can do is sacrifice the Tupperware by throwing it and its contents away.

 In most cases food mold is not dangerous (except to your sense of smell). Here is some advice from Andrew Weil, M.D. About how to deal with mold in your refrigerator.

“Molds are microscopic fungi that live on plant or animal matter. We don’t know how many species of fungi exist, but according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the total might range from tens of thousands to upwards of 300,000. Most are threadlike organisms that produce spores that can be transported by air, water, or insects.

Unfortunately, with mold, what you see is not always all you get. The visible mold that can develop on food may have invisible thread-like branches and roots that reach deep under the surface. Mold on food is not only unsightly – it can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems, and given the right conditions, a few molds can produce poisonous “mycotoxins” capable of making you sick. If you see heavy mold growth on the surface of food, you can assume that its roots run deep. Sometimes the same conditions that favor mold allow unseen bacteria to grow along with the fungi.

You can safely cut the mold away from some foods and eat the rest, but this applies largely to hard food including hard cheese. The USDA advises cutting off at least one inch around and below the mold. Be sure to keep the knife out of the mold so it will not cross-contaminate other parts of the cheese. After trimming off the mold, use a fresh wrap.

If you encounter mold that is not part of the manufacturing process (as with Brie and Camembert), throw out the cheese. If surface mold is on hard cheeses made with mold such as Gorgonzola and Stilton, cut off at least one inch around and below the mold spot as you would with other hard cheeses.

You can control mold by keeping your refrigerator, dishcloths and other cleaning utensils clean. A musty smell means that dishcloths, towels, sponges and mops are harboring mold. Throw away any you can’t get clean. The USDA also recommends cleaning the inside of your refrigerator every few months with one tablespoon of baking soda dissolved in a quart of water. Rinse with clear water and dry. Scrub visible mold (usually black) on rubber casings using three teaspoons of bleach in a quart of water.”

For those of you who find mold running rampant in your refrigerator, perhaps tonight is a night to order a pizza!


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