It's happened to the best of us—you decide to whip up a fruit salad but when you start scooping some out into a bowl, you suddenly realize those cherries you've had in the fridge have mold on them. Even more heartbreaking is when you're already eating some fruit and take a bite out of a strawberry only to see it has mold on it. Yikes. Moldy fruit looks pretty scary, and it might not taste all that great, but is it actually dangerous?
We checked in with some experts weigh in to help us get to the bottom of this age-old question.
Is moldy fruit dangerous?
For the most part, our experts agree: while moldy fruit isn't the most delicious, it's usually not a health hazard.
"Mold on food is much more common than you think," says Dr. William Li, physician-scientist and author of Eat To Beat Disease:The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself. "Some molds," he says, "are actually edible, like the kind you find on cheese."
Of course, just because you like Brie and blue cheese doesn't mean it's pleasant to bite into a moldy berry. But according to Lisa Richards, nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet, in some cases, you might not even be aware that the fruit you consumed was moldy.
"Ingesting mold from fruit can occur, more often than you'd think," she says, "most often without even realizing it happened." And this isn't a dangerous prospect.
Richards says it's unlikely that you'll experience side effects as a result of eating moldy fruit. She does note, however, that there are a few symptoms to keep an eye out for, such as nausea, vomiting, gas, and diarrhea. These, she says, could be signs of gastrointestinal distress.
What actually happens if you unintentionally eat moldy fruit?
If you do consume moldy fruit, the first thing to do is protect your gut health.
"If you want to shore up your gut microbiome, eat some fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut," says Li. "Drinking a glass of pomegranate juice can also help healthy bacteria grow naturally in your gut." Certain people will want to be especially careful of consuming moldy fruit though, according to Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, who serves on the advisory board for Smart Healthy Living.
"If you are part of a high-risk population (elderly, immunosuppressed), it is extremely important to buy, store and cook foods safely," she says. "Someone who is particularly sensitive or who gets sick from moldy fruit may experience nausea, vomiting or diarrhea as well as other food poisoning symptoms." She also cautions that some types of mold are more dangerous than others.
"Some of the most dangerous molds are under the classification of mycotoxins," she says, noting that they are usually found on grains, nuts, celery, grape juice, and apples. To stay safe, be particularly careful of these foods if they have gone moldy. People with mold allergies will also want to be particularly careful of their exposure to moldy fruit.
"If you happen to be allergic to the mold, you may be at risk for classic allergy symptoms (whether mild or severe)," says Miller. "If you are concerned that you ingested mold and are having a bad reaction to it, seek medical attention."
While eating mold once is probably a non-issue for most people, Li does note that there is some evidence that eating moldy fruit over a long period of time may be harmful to your overall wellbeing.
"Some research suggests that mycotoxins can damage your gut microbiome, which is one of your body's health defense systems," he says.
John Ward, IICRC, NAMP, and InterNACHI-certified mold inspector and remediator in Ottawa, Canada, adds that long-term exposure to mold can result in neurological problems or even cancer. So while one-time mold ingestion is no big deal, don't make it a habit.
"Obviously, the more you can avoid mold, the better off you are," he says. "But I wouldn't stress over one bite of a moldy apple, as long as it doesn't occur repeatedly over a long period of time."
How can you keep fruit from getting moldy so fast?
To keep fruit from getting moldy, exercise precautions: buy only as much as you need, and consume it as rapidly as you can.
Richards notes that some fruits can go moldy more quickly than others, such as oranges, strawberries, apples, grapes, and raspberries, and Miller adds that mold will spread more quickly on soft fruits than on firm ones, as the mold can penetrate more quickly into the softer flesh. Keeping even smaller quantities of these fruits and washing them just before consuming can help you to reduce the likelihood that they will develop mold.
If you find that a piece of fruit in your bowl is moldy, you might be tempted to toss it. But you might not need to!
"Many folks toss out anything that has a speck of mold," says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND award-winning nutrition expert and author of The Best Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook: Over 100 Tasty Recipes Using A Store-Bought Bird. "That isn't necessary and can actually lead to food waste."
According to Miller, you can cut the moldy part out of a firm piece of fruit, as long as you also cut away another inch-deep border around the mold.
"Also, make sure that you don't touch your knife to the mold and then cut the fruit in other parts, otherwise, you will just spread the mold around the fruit as you cut," she says.
When in doubt, according to Ward, it's always best to toss moldy food—and without sniffing it, as you could be inhaling toxic mold spores.
"The best advice I can give you is to use good judgment," he says, "and if you're still unsure about that punnet of berries, it's better to be safe than sorry and simply toss it away."