Microbiology

Mould on Food

mould spores

Mould on Food

You might appreciate the significance that bacteria or viruses have in relation to food poisoning but how much do you know about mould on food and how to avoid it?

The Significance of Moulds

Moulds can play a useful role in the production of food, take ‘blue’ cheeses as an example which if producd and handled correctly can be perfectly safe to eat. Moulds are also used to produce Quorn, a fungal protein, and some soya products.

Conversely, moulds also result in food spoilage and significant food safety risks. Some moulds can trigger allergic reactions, other moulds can produce toxins can cause food poisoning. Mycotoxins, for example, are common in cereals and nuts, and can cause a range of serious health effects.

Mould Growth

Moulds can grow on virtually any type of food and in a wide variety of conditions which is why you will find them inside very cold environments (like ice-machines) as well as in very low pH (acidic) foods such as orange juice or tinned tomatoes. Its not all fluffy and white though. Some moulds are slimy and others are shiny.

Due to the nature of moulds they spread easily and rapidly. The first sign you see might be a tiny raised green pimple of fur on the surface of a food. However, by this time it is likley that the entire surface of the food is affected and has probably penetrated well into the substance of the food. For that reason, it is never acceptable to remove or scrape off visible mould from food; any food that is contaminated with mould must be thrown away.

mouldy burgers
Mould on burgers in refrigerator

Preventing Mould on Food

Most moulds produce spores that are easily transported through (and are readily available in) the air but can also be transferred to food via contaminated equipment, water or ingredients. Moist foods, in particular, therefore need protection from contamination. Here are some other tips:

  • Employ a strict shelf-life control system.
  • Keep food covered or in food storage containers, where appropriate. Always remove food from cans or tins.
  • Reduce the ability for products to ‘sweat’ by removing moist air from cooking and cleaning activities (via suitable ventilation) and by keeping storage areas cool.
  • Clean premises and equipment regularly; particularly inside fridges and freezers and around seals.
  • Make sure cleaning materials and equipment is washed or replaced regularly.

The 3 day rule applying to prepared foods would usually be a sufficient limit for storing prepared/cooked foods after cooling or high risk food (that which is susceptible to spoilage) after packaging has been opened.

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