Oops — that plate of nachos you ate was topped with moldy cheese. What now?
We’ve all been there. It’s Taco Tuesday, and obviously, a taco is not a taco without a delicious cheesy topping. As you bite into your third stuffed tortilla, you notice a fuzzy blue topping on the shredded cheddar. What do you do?
Can You Eat Moldy Cheese?
The short answer is, it depends. In most cases, it is not safe to eat any type of moldy food. (Read more about whether it is OK to eat moldy strawberries.) Mold can contain toxins that lead to illness. Moldy foods are also more likely to be contaminated with bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Types of bacteria that may lead to illness include listeria, brucella, salmonella and E. coli.
Some cheeses are made with mold, and are safe for most healthy adults to consume. These include blue cheese, Gorgonzola, Camembert and Brie. However, they should be avoided by babies, young children, older adults, pregnant women and anyone with a compromised immune system.
Other types of cheese should not be eaten when mold is present, such as cheddar, Colby, Parmesan and Swiss. However, the rest of the block of cheese is still salvageable. If you find mold on a corner of a block of cheddar cheese, cut off the moldy part and about an inch surrounding the mold. Be careful to keep the knife from becoming contaminated and touching the mold. Don’t take a shortcut with this step.
When a semisoft cheese is shredded, crumbled or sliced, the entire bag or container should be thrown out when you find mold.
It is never safe to eat moldy soft cheeses such as cottage cheese, cream cheese or ricotta. Mold can spread quickly in these cheeses. When there is a small amount of mold on soft cheese, the entire container is likely contaminated.
To keep your cheese as fresh as possible, store it the right way. Refrigerate cheese as soon as you get home from the store, and wrap it tightly in aluminum foil or wax paper.
What Happens If You Eat Moldy Cheese?
So what happens if you accidentally eat soft or semisoft cheese that has some mold on it? More often than not, you will not notice any issues after discovering that you took a bite of some moldy Munster.
Eating a small amount of moldy cheese will probably not cause health problems for most people. As soon as you realize the cheese is moldy, throw it out. If you notice mold on a block of hard or semisoft cheese, it is safe to cut it off, along with a one-inch radius around it.
While rare, possible symptoms of eating mold may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath and allergic reactions. If you’re concerned that you’re experiencing a serious reaction, call your healthcare provider right away.
Here’s how to tell if your food is spoiled.
Editor’s Note: The spores from moldy cheese (or any other moldy food) can stay in the air in your refrigerator and contaminate other items. Make sure all foods stored in the fridge are covered to lower the risk. Clean the inside of the refrigerator every few months with a mixture of 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 1 quart of water.