In Defense of Eating Moldy Bread

Veggie sandwiches are one of the easiest vegan options when you find yourself in unfamiliar eating territory. (Photo: Wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

I'm not telling anyone else how to live, but this brouhaha about eating moldy bread has me rolling my eyes.

Having grown up in a house with just a single parent (my grandma), the bread she made by hand often ended up moldy — good, fresh bread without preservatives will do that in a house with just two people. At a young age, I got used to cutting off the mold and tossing that bit into the compost. But get rid of a whole loaf because there's a bit of mold on one slice? That's just wasteful.

I don't make my own bread these days, but I pay good money for the local, organic stuff made by a neighbor. And so I have continued to eat bread with a bit of mold on it sometimes. With just two people in our household, and bread loaves being a standard, too-large size for us, mold happens.

The suggestion that I'm supposed to get rid of the whole loaf, when I've been doing this my whole life, is ludicrous to me. I'm not talking about a furred-over loaf of bread, or one where every piece has some kind of mold on it. I'm talking mold on one piece and the rest of it being visibly mold-free. I'm going to eat that bread. No, I've rarely tasted the mold, and if I did, I wouldn't eat it.

There's being careful of food spoilage, and there's wasting food.

We're Built to Know the Difference

Your nose is shaped like it is and placed where it is for a reason. (Photo: David Goehring/Flickr)

Whatever happened to using our noses and taste buds to determine if food is bad or not? Barring disability, most of us have trustworthy noses, eyes and taste buds for determining if food is going to make us sick, honed by tens of thousands of years of human evolution. I trust my own senses more than some minimal possibility that I might ingest a little mold. It's also why I ignore "sell by" or "best by" dates on packaged foods, which have mostly proven to be a racket anyway. There are plenty of times I've opened food that should be OK according to the package but it smells, looks, or tastes wrong to me — so I don't eat it.

Am I taking a risk by eating my bread? Sure, but even the experts admit, it's a small one. In every article on the subject of eating moldy bread, that has been clearly stated: The risk is low, and the types of mold commonly found on bread are generally low-harm.

As Sciencing details: "Like all molds, bread molds reproduce by creating spores. Spores are tiny, often microscopic, particles from which fully formed molds eventually grow. Mold spores are present almost anywhere you find moisture and organic matter. They can drift through the air or land in water or food, meaning that they are almost always present in the wild and indoors. Fortunately, the vast majority of mold spores are harmless."

That same very useful article goes on to detail the types of mold found on bread: There's black bread mold (which starts as blue or green and develops a black center), and it's not dangerous to eat, though enough could cause upset stomach and cladosporium, which are dark green or black and are so smelly, they ruin the bread's taste completely. Then there's Penicillium, which is white or grey, and this is what I encounter 95 percent of the time on my breads. "Some Penicillium molds are used by people to purposefully flavor foods, such as blue cheese. Other species of Penicillium molds produce a molecule called penicillin, which is used as an antibiotic by people," according to Sciencing.

People With Allergies Need to Take Precautions

So why the dire recommendations about moldy bread? It seems mostly to do with allergies, which makes sense. Obviously if you have a penicillin allergy, you wouldn't want to eat bread with the stuff on it, even in small amounts. So, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests tossing even minimally moldy bread "... because the microscopic fungi can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems in some people." So, this recommendation is aimed at a general population, including people with allergies. That's understandable. I get why this advice should be taken in, say, a restaurant or cafeteria. But at home, we can make decisions based on our own health.

I'm not, as far as I can tell, allergic to anything, and I don't have any health issues that would mean very small amounts of penicillium mold would be a problem for me.

Marianne Gravely, a senior technical information specialist for the USDA told NPR in 2017 that she doesn't "recommend cutting mold off of bread, because it's a soft food," but the article goes on to say, "You might have slightly more leeway when it comes to sliced bread in a bag: If after careful inspection of the interior and exterior of the bread on a long loaf, you can tell one end is unaffected, keep it."

Just two years earlier, in 2015, Gravely told The New York Times that if you want to keep some of the bread "cut away a big section surrounding the mold with a healthy margin around it to make sure you got all of it." That's exactly what I do.

The proof is in the pudding, to my mind. Like many people who commented on Facebook on the original story on this topic, I've been eating slightly moldy bread my entire life and have had no ill effects from my consumption. I also eat jams with mold on them, scooping the mold — and a chunk of jam around the mold spot too. In fact, I've never gotten sick from my own food, except once. That was from a jar of old pasta sauce that didn't even have mold on it. Meanwhile I've gotten food poisoning from eating at restaurants at least a half-dozen times in four decades.

So I'm going to err on the side of eating the good bread my neighbor's make, even if it has a bit of mold on one slice, based on my own experience, my own body and health, and research.

I'm not saying you should take my word for it. After all, I don't shower much and I rarely use sunscreen, either. I only claim to be an expert on one person — myself.