One of the biggest buzzkills of enjoying your food is mould. This furry, fluffy, slimy – and sometimes even spongey! – stuff gets into your grandma’s leftover lasagne, your bread and your tomatoes too. Fortunately, most of our mould woes come down to poor preparation and storage – that’s where we come in. We’ll be giving you the rundown on how to keep your favourite foods fresh and mould free.
There’s nothing more frustrating than having to toss a batch of last night’s leftovers out due to a mould invasion, or finding a strange blue growth on your recently opened ricotta – and you’ve probably sat there wondering “why?” Maybe you’ve even contemplated scraping the stuff off and chowing down on the remains – but this may not be the safest choice. Consuming mould can expose you to some scary toxins – and where there’s visible mould, there could be thousands of spores lurking unseen. The toxins it produces are known as mycotoxins – these can cause some pretty troubling symptoms and side effects when ingested, including the following:
- Liver damage
Of course, there’s no need to panic if you’ve only consumed a tiny amount of, say, mouldy bread by accident – chances are, you’ll be fine. Just don’t go wolfing the stuff down! In extreme cases – especially for those with mould allergies – excess consumption can cause death. So it’s important to avoid the stuff where possible – and here are our handy tips to keep your food and fridge as mould-free as possible.
Storing leftovers is one of the more complicated – and mould-inviting – storage activities – from concerns around reheating rice, potatoes and mushrooms to confusion around how long last night’s leftovers will last, it can be some tricky territory to navigate. So, we’re here to make it simple! When saving and using leftover meals, it’s important to follow a few safety practices to keep the fuzzy stuff out of your food:
- Keep your leftovers covered when serving it at the table – or better yet, quickly take your portion out and pop it back in the fridge. The more time it has at room temperature, the more likely mould growth is.
- Leftovers need to be put in the fridge less than two hours after cooking them – be sure not to leave your goods sitting out at room temp past this point. You won’t just be facing mould growth – you might find some unwanted bacteria set up shop in your pasta bake too!
- Use shallow containers to store leftovers rather than deep containers – this way the food will cool quicker and require less time out of the fridge. Glass, ceramic, stainless steel or plastic containers are all decent options – just make sure they’re sealable.
- If you’re planning on keeping leftovers for more than a few days, consider freezing them instead of refrigerating them. Just be sure to let the food cool before popping them in the freezer, then seal your leftovers in containers. Be sure to add a date on your container so you’ll know when it went in and when to use it by! This will be around 3-6 months depending on the food.
- Sealable bags also work for freezing leftovers, while ice cube trays are great options for storing leftover soups or stocks.
The rundown on rice: What’s all this about not reheating rice? Well, there are spores that exist in rice crops – the good news is, they’re safe to consume when heated, and contrary to popular belief, they are safe to eat as leftovers. But just remember to promptly refrigerate your rice, don’t leave it sitting out at room temperature for too long, this is when the spores start repopulating your food. So, leave it out around 30 to 60 minutes to cool, then pop it in the fridge and enjoy it for the next 3-5 days.
Hard cheeses: Remember, cheese is alive! Well, not exactly, but there are countless microbes living in your favourite dairy food – many of which are good bacteria for a healthy gut. When you tightly wrap your cheese in plastic wrap, you can suffocate it and even cause premature mould growth. A bit of parchment paper – but cheese bags or paper would be ideal – wrapped around your hard cheeses is the best way to keep the mould away. Wrap it so that a little air can get in, but make sure it's not loose. We know, cheese can be very needy!
Tip: Put a touch of olive oil on your hard cheeses – this will reduce the growth of mould and prevent the cheese from going hard.
Soft cheeses: Feta, ricotta and cottage cheese all tend to go off a lot faster than their harder counterparts. Here are a few ways to prevent a mould attack:
- Get your soft cheeses into the fridge as soon as you’re home from the shops.
- Always use a clean spoon when scooping a serve out of your ricotta or cottage cheese.
- Don’t leave the cheese out when you’re serving it, take your portion and back into the fridge it goes!
- Consume your cheese within five to seven days of opening the container.
- If you’ve used a soft cheese in a meal – say in lasagne, a bake or a soup – use it within three to five days. To extend its life, put it in the freezer. Keep in mind, the texture of ricotta may change when frozen, but it tends to do well when it’s already incorporated into a meal.
Believe it or not, uncooked eggs still in their shells can get mouldy! But this is usually due to improper handling in the production process. When storing eggs, the best way to preserve their fridge life is to keep them in the carton they came in, and put them in the fridge promptly after bringing them home. This is because the cartons minimise the loss of water and prevent pathogen and other food odours from permeating the eggs. If you’re looking to store cooked eggs, pop them into a container and eat it within 3 to 4 days. After this point, microbial contamination is likely.
Tip: If you’ve cooked up an extra-large batch of eggs, it helps to divvy them up into smaller containers so they cool quicker, meaning there will be less chance of developing mould or bacteria.
Most of us are no stranger to a mouldy berry here and there – but did you know there is a method to extend their fridge lives? If you’re planning on storing leftover berries, give them a wash in vinegar; this reduces the mould spores living on them, giving them less of a foothold to reproduce over time. Now, here are a few tried and true ways to keep your fruit and veggies free from mould:
- Understand the makeup of different types of produce: some fruits and vegetables like avocado, banana, mango, pear and tomato release a gas known as ethylene. If other foods like apple, leafy greens and carrot are exposed to this, they tend to go off faster. So, keep your ethylene-rich foods separate from your other produce to prevent mould growth.
- Tomatoes go off faster in moist environments, their ideal place with be cool and dry. If you often keep your tomatoes cramped in a moist fridge, this could be why you’re finding them overrun by mould soon after you’ve bought them.
- Store fresh herbs and salad-style greens – like rocket – in sealed bags, but leave a little air in. This is the best environment to extend their freshness, rather than leaving them open and exposed to the other produce in the fridge.
- Broccoli and carrots are veggies that start to go off pretty much the moment they’re picked, but that doesn’t mean you should skip them altogether. These nutritious veggies last the longest when stored in the crisper drawer in the fridge, and for extra mould protection, consider sealing them in sealable bags.
- Don’t wash your produce until the moment you’ll be using them – exposing them to water and moisture too soon is a recipe for a mouldy disaster.
Ever left a sandwich in your bag and only found it when your nose detected a foul odour afoot? Bread is a mould magnet, and it’s because of all the yeast and carbohydrate content – it’s like chocolate for our fungal friends. Here are a few ways to prevent mould growth on your favourite loaf:
- Store your bread in a bread bin or even a bread bag made of cloth will do the trick.
- Keep your bread out of direct sunlight and away from the heat.
- Keep it sealed airtight – exposure to oxygen can speed up the mould-inhabitation process.
General rules to live by
Don’t leave food – especially leftovers – uncovered in the fridge. Put it in a seal container or wrap that stuff up! Partly-used canned foods like beans, pineapple and chickpeas are best removed from the can and placed into sealed containers – don’t leave the whole thing uncovered in the fridge.
Add in a little vinegar when you wash your fruit – this will preserve its life and stave off mould. One part vinegar to two parts water is the general rule.
Clean out your fridge on the regular – once mould takes hold it will spread and thrive, so if you’ve had mould on your food, it’s not enough to remove the source from the fridge, you’ll want to clean the whole thing out. Plus, there are many spores you can’t even see which may grow in the moist areas of the fridge, so it doesn’t hurt to give it a good scrub every now and again.
Put unused raw meat in sealed – and clean, of course! – containers in the bottom section of your fridge. Be sure to cook and eat the meat before it’s use-by date, and always keep your cooked meats separate from the raw stuff.
Maintain a dry fridge – as we said, it’s the moisture that promotes the growth of mould, so you’ll want to try to limit that as much as possible. Be sure to keep the fridge closed as often as possible to reduce the moisture.
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