Is Mold Making the Berries Rot?

The food-related questions you’d rather not have lurking in your corporate laptop’s search history will be answered in Too Afraid to Ask. Today: Is it safe to eat the rest of the berries if some of them are moldy?

Consider this: Sipping lemonade at the farmers market, you notice a table covered in mounds of jewel-toned berries that catch the sun’s rays perfectly. A punnet of blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries costs a small fortune because you have visions of all the snack cakes, fruit salads, and cool cocktails you can make with them. The next morning, you find your prized fruit covered in a grayish fuzz. Your favorite tote bag muffles your scream for about a minute while you wonder if the rest is safe to eat.

There’s no way to tell from your kitchen whether the fungi in question (like the tangy stuff in blue cheese) is a friend or a foe, so eating fistfuls of visibly moldy berries is a bad idea, say experts (like the toxic stuff that colonizes corn and can have serious long-term health effects). It’s possible to tell whether or not nearby berries have been infested by looking closely and using intuition “passed down to us by our forebears over centuries,” according to Luke LaBorde, Ph.D., an expert in food science at Penn State University.

It is most likely airborne for the mold to infect berries. Tiny spores land on moist surfaces as the fruit breathes, easily penetrating their thin skins (same) and feasting on the available food as the fruit exhales moisture. According to Felicia Wu, Ph.D., a Michigan State University professor of food science and human nutrition, berries in particular are ripe for mold infestations. Molds thrive in moist, sugary environments, which is why these foods are so popular.

Botrytis, Phytophthora, and Fusarium are just a few of the fungi that can infest berries, according to Wu. In some cases, you can actually see the “filaments of the mold (very thin strands, like hair)” sprouting from the berries’ surface, which is “usually white or gray in color.” Despite the fact that moldy berries don’t typically produce toxins, there are other good reasons to avoid them: In addition to some people being allergic to molds, “a good indicator of spoilage in general, which means that other microbes such as bacteria may be present” (Wu), fungi are “a good indicator of spoilage.”

A punnet of berries can become infested with mold once it has been contaminated. This can happen even in cases where no spores are visible in the fruit. Is it possible to determine whether or not moldy fruit is safe to consume? It’s a game of hunches, according to LaBorde. As long as it’s “fresh, plump and not oozing or falling apart,” a berry that’s been in contact with a moldy one can be considered fungi-free. Fortunately, according to Wu, mold is “rarely present in high amounts” that would be harmful if consumed if it isn’t readily visible to the eye.

They’re hard to love, these fruits. Berry-like fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries, aren’t actually fruits or vegetables. The swindle!) Persnickety produce can be handled in various ways just like any other relationship. Buying and storing berries takes a little more effort, but it saves you food waste and money in the long run.

Berry purchasing and storage:

When purchasing berries, look for ones that are firm, shiny, and plump, with no signs of broken skin. Mold spores can thrive in the presence of any kind of breakage, according to LaBorde, because they have access to nutrients. If you want to avoid food spoilage, he advises, “buy only what you can consume in a few days” (and disappointment).

When you get home, soak your haul in a vinegar bath for about a minute before thoroughly rinsing and drying them on paper towels, a clean dish cloth, or a salad spinner. Wu suggests a vinegar bath of four parts cold water to one part white vinegar. Water is a mold-inducing agent. But Wu says vinegar’s acid “helps to kill microbes, including bacteria and fungi that might already be present on the berries.” This may seem counterproductive.

To keep your berries fresh, store them in an airtight container lined with paper towels. The lid should be on loosely or slightly ajar to allow excess moisture to escape and for the fruit to breathe. You can also spread the berries out in a single layer on a baking sheet.) The Oxo Good Grips GreenSaver Produce Keeper, for example, is a purpose-built container that raises your berries in a little basket for maximum airflow.

A $15.00 OXO Produce Keeper from Bon Appétit

According to LaBorde, it’s also important to keep the berries in the refrigerator. When it’s cold outside, mold can grow more slowly, allowing the food to remain fresher for longer. And if you overbought, you can always preserve the berries in jam or freeze them for later use.

Mold, like love, is hard to define but you know it when you see it. That’s what Wu says about berrying this summer. According to LaBorde, if your gut tells you not to eat a suspicious-looking berry, then you should listen to it. As a rule of thumb, “When in doubt, throw it away.” Not taking the risk isn’t worth it.”

Non-moldy berries, on the other hand…