Cathy Payne -- USA TODAY
You may want to give some items in your fridge the cold shoulder.
The recent recall of Chobani Greek yogurt brought new attention to the issue of mold that develops in food, when it's harmful and what to do about it. On Sept. 5, the company that makes Chobani yogurt voluntarily recalled containers with the code 16-012 and best-by dates of Sept. 11 to Oct. 7.
The Food and Drug Administration received a total of 170 complaints associated with Chobani yogurt as of Sept. 13. The various issues reported continue to be cramps, nausea, headache and diarrhea. The complaints were submitted by individuals in Arizona, Delaware, New York, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Indiana and Florida.
"These reports about a product only reflect information as reported and do not represent any conclusion by the FDA about whether the product actually caused the adverse events," says Tamara Ward, a spokeswoman for the agency.
You may be wondering what to do if you find mold, or microscopic fungi, lurking in foods in your refrigerator or pantry. Here are 10 questions about mold in foods. The answers are from food safety experts and a government website.
1. Are molds dangerous?
Some foods have mold that is safe to eat and even delicious. For example, Brie cheese has surface mold. Other molds trigger allergic reactions and respiratory problems. A few molds produce mycotoxins, which are poisonous substances.
2. What does mold in foods look like?
Signs of mold include fuzzy green or white spots. When mold is growing on foods, the roots can be hard to see even if they run deep. Also, invisible bacteria can grow along with the mold.
3. Does the mold found in the Chobani yogurt pose a public health threat?
Mucor circinelloides, the type of mold found in the yogurt, is commonly associated with fruits, vegetables and dairy, the FDA's Ward says. "It has been reported to cause spoilage like swelling and bloating in yogurt," she adds.
"This mold should not pose a health risk to most consumers," Ward says. It can act as a pathogen (an agent that causes disease) "very rarely" and "usually only for people with compromised immune systems through inhalation," she adds.
4. What would happen if you accidentally ate mold in yogurt?
"Most people will just excrete it; they won't notice anything," says David Heber, a professor in the UCLA Department of Medicine. "You might have some gastrointestinal upset like nausea and diarrhea, but it would be transient."
The mold would pass through the body, Heber says. "It wouldn't take up residence unless someone has a compromised immune system," he adds.
5. If you ate mold in yogurt, should you see a doctor right away?
If the symptoms are transient or temporary, then probably not, says Heber, director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. If they persist for more than a day, then you should probably see a doctor, he says.
6. If you see mold in your spoonful of yogurt, should you throw away the cup?
"If you can see mold on the top of yogurt, you should discard the entire product immediately," says Kantha Shelke, a spokeswoman for the Institute of Food Technologists, a non-profit scientific society based in Chicago. Mold on the surface of fluid foods such as yogurt usually means that its mycelium, or mass of thread-like filaments, penetrated the item, she says.
"Also, discard the yogurt if it develops off odor, flavor or appearance," she adds.
7. How can you avoid buying yogurt with mold?
"It is best not to buy yogurt past its sell-by date," says Shelke, principal of Corvus Blue LLC, a Chicago-based food science and research firm. "Avoid selecting yogurt containers that are swollen and have torn or wrinkled foil seals. Avoid dirty containers and containers with yogurt outside the seal."
8. If you see mold on a slice of bread, what should you do?
"The appearance of mold on bread usually means that the entire loaf is moldy," Shelke says. "It is best to throw out the entire loaf, as well as the bag containing the bread. Moldy bread is not salvageable, and mold spores spread quickly throughout soft foods and can contaminate the entire bag. "
9. Is it OK to sniff foods to find out whether they are moldy?
Avoid sniffing foods with mold, which can cause respiratory trouble, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
10. How should you discard moldy food?
Put the moldy food in a small paper bag or wrap it in plastic, and dispose it in a covered trash container so it is out of reach of children and pets, the USDA says. Clean the area where the food was stored. Check items that the moldy food might have touched.
For more details on how to handle foods with mold, see the USDA chart Moldy Food: When to Use, When to Discard.