If you’ve ever munched on a piece of moldy bread, you know that the taste is weird, to say the least. Some people might even panic, thinking here comes food poisoning. But is eating bread mold that dangerous?
Luckily, it isn’t.
Assuming your immune system is working properly, you should be able to digest the fuzzy stuff without any consequences. At worst, you might feel like vomiting or a bit nauseated due to the unpleasant taste.
Is this mold really penicillin, the well-known antibiotic, as some people think?
Let’s take a closer look a what happens if you eat moldy bread and how it occurs in the first place.
How does Mold Grow on Bread?
Spores of fungi are always around in the air. They are harmless to people and animals of normal immune system. Under normal circumstances, the fungi would develop on bread surface if you leave a loaf out in the open.
The mold spores grow and create hyphae, which germinate on the surface by absorbing nutrients and moisture from the bread. From there on, hyphae sprout into fungi with rhizoids, which go deep inside the bread and act like a lifeline. The fungi then develop sporangium and release microscopic spores into the air.
Bread fungi may belong to various species like Aspergillus, Penicillium, Monascus, Fusarium, and Rhizopus. The color and shape are different for each of the species.
The most common bread molds are Rhizopus stolonifer or black mold (blue or green patches) and Penicillium bread mold (white, gray, or light blue). These fungi can also appear on the skin of rotting fruits.
Why does Bread Mold Appear?
There are several factors that contribute to the growth of bread mold. Temperature is one of the primary reasons. In general, bread fungi thrive above 70°F. The growth would be slower to non-existent as you go down in temperature. Preservatives used in the bed would also play a factor.
As a living organism, bread mold needs oxygen. It also absorbs moisture inside the bag to germinate faster. Unlike plants, mold doesn’t need any light.
What Happens if You Eat Moldy Bread?
By now, you already know that your health is not in jeopardy from eating a piece of moldy bread. However, you should avoid mold because it might cause some harm.
There are certain types of mold which are perfectly safe to consume. For example, penicillin comes from Penicillium mold. This mild antibiotic usually won’t cause acid reflux even if consumed in higher doses.
However, you can never be certain of the species of mold that grow on your bread. To be on the safe side, it’s better not to eat moldy bread under normal circumstances. (You might have to reevaluate in an end-of-world or famine scenario, of course.)
Sometimes you can’t see the mold or fungi at all. But if the bread smells moldy and it’s pretty, then by golly assume it’s moldy!
Albeit quite rare, there have been instances of severe allergic reactions from inhaling or ingesting mold, including anaphylaxis. Diabetics should also avoid moldy bread because they might be more susceptible to Rhizopus stolonifer infections.
On the bright side, severe allergic reactions and infections from bread mold are not common.
Can You Save Moldy Bread?
To avoid being wasteful, some people might think cutting or scraping off the mold could save the bread. In reality, this doesn’t actually remove all the fungi.
What’s on the surface might be gone after scraping, but there’s an entire microscopic system underneath. Plus, it spreads quickly through the bread so there is no way for you to get it all out.
There are certain types of mold that produce mycotoxins – invisible poisons that can be very harmful to your health. Mycotoxins can cause digestive problems and intestinal dysfunction by affecting the good microbes that live in your gut.
What’s more, some Aspergillus fungi species may produce aflatoxin. This particularly dangerous type of mycotoxin may lead to increased risk of cancer after prolonged exposure.
When all is said and done, it’s best to heed the Department of Agriculture’s recommendation and chuck the moldy loaf.
The shelf Life of Bread
A loaf that doesn’t contain any preservatives can be good for up to 4 days at room temperature. However, there are ingredients that can avert mold growth and prolong shelf life.
Mass-produced sandwich bread usually contains sorbic acid and calcium propionate as preservatives. If you prefer natural preservatives, sourdough bread contains lactic acid bacteria which naturally keep mold away.
Other natural preservatives may include spices and vinegar. Of course, these additives would change the aroma and taste of the bread.
How to Properly Store Bread
You might know how already, but here they are:
- Since moisture promotes mold, you need to keep the bread as dry as possible. If there’s any moisture inside the bag, make sure to wipe it off or use a different container.
- Allow freshly baked bread to cool before you store it. This prevents condensation moisture.
- Refrigeration dries the bread and stops the growth of mold. You can also freeze the bread if you so wish.
In general, baking kills the spores, but slices of bread can still get contaminated after you take them out from the oven. Also, there are no guarantees that you’ll get rid of the mold if you toast the bread.
Compared to common bread, gluten-free options are more prone to mold. They contain less preservatives and more moisture.
Crispy on the Outside and Soft on the Inside
To sum up, bread mold is generally harmless.
And remember, there is no way to save the bread even if it justs smells moldy. But you can add a few extra days to its shelf life with proper storage and handling.