6 Less Than Perfect Produce: What to Keep, What to Toss

Friday, July 16, 2010

I thought this was a valuable article.  Personally, I always err on the side of "what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger." but I'm English, so I must be genetically predisposed to survive funny food (and also have troublesome teeth!)


Posted July 12, 2010

SpEd_BruisedFruitI was having breakfast with a friend recently, and when I peeled my banana, I discovered that the top half was brown and bruised. I nonchalantly broke the banana in half and proceeded to eat the non-offending portion, but my friend was horrified. “How can you eat that?” she said. “Isn’t it dangerous?” 
I guess if she was that scandalized by a bruised banana, I shouldn’t tell her about what I do when I find a little spot of mold growing on a block of cheese. She and her delicate sensibilities might never recover. 
Fresh food is expensive, and it’s natural to try to get our money’s worth. That’s why it’s so frustrating to come across a half-eaten block of Parmesan with some mold on the edge, or an appleor pear with a soft dent on the side. It seems a shame to throw them out; as my mother used to say, there are starving people in China. Is it safe to eat these older foods? 

The Truth About Ugly
In America, there’s no denying that we’re obsessed with our food being perfect and beautiful. Supermarket produce managers closely monitor their shelves, throwing out bruised fruit, oddly-shaped vegetables, or other pieces of produce with minor cosmetic flaws, relegating them to the charity bin or the compost heap. Even though we deem them aesthetically inferior, the truth is that the vast majority of these fruits and vegetables are 
perfectly edible and safe to eat. Produce with bruises or soft spots is prone to quicker rotting and decay and should be consumed immediately, but the surface imperfections are usually minor. 
Watch out, however, for bruising that’s accompanied by a broken skin, because it could indicate rotting. If fruit or vegetables have begun the rotting process (complete with a change in color, texture, or odor), it’s best to toss them out. This is most important for items with a high water content like pineapple, peaches, grapes, tomatoes, and cucumbers, because it’s easier for bacteria to infest these items. Since it’s harder for microbes to invade dense vegetables like carrots, bell peppers, or potatoes, it’s the consumer’s choice whether to cut off the offending part and use the rest of the item, or to throw the whole thing away. 
Also, just because an item is past its freshness peak, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unusable. It’s safe to cut dry ends off cheeses, slice away the stale parts of bread, or use the rind of old citrus fruits for zest. 

Molden Delicious
Most people can deal with some slight bruising, but 
mold is an entirely different story. Mold has roots and tentacles that can reach deep into food, so if there’s significant mold growth on the surface, there’s a good chance that the rest of the food is tainted as well, even if you can’t see it.Harmful bacteria, like listeria, E. coli, and salmonella, can also accompany mold. 

Foods You Can Keep:
But don’t toss every moldy item out. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are some foods that, when a small amount of mold is present, it doesn’t automatically mean disaster.
  • Hard shelf-stable salami and dry-cured meat products
  • Hard cheeses (Parmesan, Pecorino)
  • Semi-hard cheese (cheddar, gruyere)
  • Cheeses that normally include mold (Roquefort, Camembert, Stilton)
  • Firm, dense fruits and vegetables (cabbage, carrots, peppers) 
In these instances, it’s okay to cut off the affected area to one inch below the mold spot, and use the rest of the product as usual. Just make sure not to slice into the mold itself with the knife, to prevent contamination. 

Foods You Should Toss:
  • Fresh meat of any kind
  • Soft cheeses (feta, mozzarella, chèvre)
  • Processed dairy (yogurt, sour cream)
  • Jellies, preserves, and jams
  • Soft fruits (apples, peaches, plums)
  • Bread and cooked pasta 
These items have high water content, making it more likely that mold spores (along with harmful bacteria) have permeated the entire product. Also, toss out any item that’s been shredded, crumbled, or chopped, since increased surface area means increased risk of contamination. 
The next time I get a battered-looking banana, I won’t think twice about cutting out the brown bits and enjoying the rest of the fruit. I’ll save the darker pieces for banana bread.

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lequan@luvtoeat said...

As a mother of two, every penny counts. I'd never give my kiddies moldy food, but for myself, it's a whole different story...teehee. This was a great read. Thank you for sharing.

arkonite_babe said...

I'll admit to the sniff test. If it smells ok then I usually use it!!
People are far too obsessed with perfect produce these days. I'd rather buy the not so perfect shaped items and pay less for them!

Emily @ Bentobloggy.com said...

Have any of you ever seen any of the PBS series like Colonial House? For goodness' sake, the stuff that people used to eat...and we worry about a tiny bit of mold on some cheese? Ha! They were eating moldy MEAT! Not that I in any way endorse eating mold that hasn't be prescribed by your healthcare professional ;)

tinyskillet said...

Great post here Emily! I hate that in America our food has to be waxed, colored, buffed to perfection! That's just not natural! I often cut the moldy part from cheese. I think my mother was always like that and those who lived through the depression have a hard time throwing out food. You gave a lot of good to know tips!

RoseG said...

some good info here, glad to know I'm not the only one to cut out the bad and eat the good.

Maria said...

Jams and jellies?! Really.

We make our own at home, so they have absolutely no preservatives.
When there is a bit of mold, by father just tosses that part out... and then reboils the whole thing, resterelizes the jar and back in it goes.

Is this ok????

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