Avoiding mold on food

A plate with molding food like apples, prunes and tomato.

Mold is nature’s way of recycling. It breaks plant matter down into nutrients for other plants to use. With a few natural tricks, you can stop mold from appearing and avoid contaminating your food for a bit longer!

Avoiding mold, key facts

Most effective ways of avoiding mold:

  • buy local
  • clean kitchen
  • eat seasonal
  • store well
  • make preserves

Read the other parts in this short series:

Buying local, the ultimate mold killer

Unexpected, no? Why would buying local food make mold go away?

As fresh as can be

Harvested in the morning, cooked in the evening! This is the ultimate way to prevent mold in the first place. Indeed, keeping the fruit or vegetable on the mother plant will protect the food from mold.

  • Fruit remains high up in the tree or bush, with a lot of air circulation. The air is cooler and dryer around the fruit.
  • Harvested fruit is often set to rest in crates, baskets, or on the ground where it contracts mold early on.
  • By harvesting at the last possible moment, mold can’t even begin to form!

While still on the tree, the plant’s immune system still fights mold off. This protection ceases for most fruits and vegetables as soon as it’s picked.

Short distance

Less distance makes for less wounding. Fruits and vegetables aren’t shuffled around as much.

They aren’t jarred around in pallets as far, nor are they subject to vibrations over long hauls.

Also, eating local reduces the number of molds a fruit is exposed to. A fruit is usually better able to fight off local mold species than it is for foreign molds.

Community culling

A tight-knit community can work towards raising standards in a soft, inspiring way.

Producers, middlemen and end consumers are all in direct contact one with another, but not only from a “business” point of view. Indeed, meeting on the marketplace, the post office, the barber shop, and celebrating religious events together put a face on that tomato you’re slicing up for lunch.

Instead of selling second rate fruits that are already starting to mold, the incentive is to only provide healthy, fresh items.

Moldy food items that would otherwise be wasted can be used for other purposes. Throw them in the compost to nourish next year’s harvest!

Shop more often for smaller quantities

Try to break the “supermarket once a week” habit.

Find a small grocery shop nearby or that’s an easy stop on the way to work and back.

  • Purchasing a few fruits and vegetables for the next couple of days will become a pleasure.
  • The relationship you’ll create with the owner and staff will guarantee you get the best produce ever!
  • You can also add in a visit to the local farmer’s market.

Clean pantry, kitchen and cutlery

Keep the refrigerator clean

Molds are not limited to growing in warmer temperatures, although they do prefer it. As you might have already seen, even food like jam, cheese and cream in the refrigerator can turn moldy. To control mold growth, it is recommended to clean your refrigerator quarterly.

How to clean the refrigerator

  • Dissolve one tablespoon of baking soda in a quart (one liter) of water.
  • Using a clean sponge or hand towel, wipe the inner surface clean. Don’t use the scratchy part! If you scrape marks into the lining, this will be a haven for molds to take refuge in.
  • When there is mold on rubber casings, scrub it off with three teaspoons of bleach in a quart (liter) of water.
  • Rinse with clear water and make sure to dry with another fresh, clean hand towel or dishcloth before turning it on again.
  • Cleaning supplies (sponge, dishcloth, washcloth) should be kept clean after every use.

Clean storage and containers

Make sure jars and storage containers are clean and seal well. Having airtight containers reduces risk of mold.

Transfer leftovers to clean air-tight containers before placing them in the fridge.

Plan meals and prioritize leftovers

Manage food supply better to avoid rotten items.

Don’t wait too long before eating some items like fruits or lettuce.

Consume leftover food within 3-4 days from the time it was cooked.

Decide immediately at the end of the meal when you’ll finish the leftovers.

  • If you can’t set the day and stick to it, simply freeze the leftovers immediately instead of letting them hang around in the fridge.

Seasons help keep food safe

Eat seasonal to always eat fresh

A foregone advantage of eating local is eating seasonal.

A seasonal diet is the fact of only eating and cooking food that is available naturally at that point in time in the area you live in.

Seasonal diets mean you avoid having food travel long-distance.

Nutrient availability matches seasonal needs

Over the course of the year, nutritional content of fruits, nuts and vegetables available differ.

  • For instance, food available in winter like nuts, corn salad and certain berries contain energy-rich oils and/or vitamin C, right when we need them most.
  • In summer, many fresh fruits and vegetables with high water content such as tomato and watermelon make hydration easier.

Storing food

Avoid heat

When shopping, bring along isotherm bags and pouches. In summer, they’ll keep the summer heat out. In winter, it will keep out warm air from heating vents and air ducts in the store, car, or public transportation.

  • Air ducts are only rarely cleaned and sterilized, and they often spread mold spores out.
  • Swab the inside of the bags with any simple, cheap alcohol (fruit alcohol for making spirits are best since they don’t smell anything). This will kill any spores off.
  • Turn them inside-out to make sure they dry out well.

Similarly, don’t store food in direct sunlight. That fruit basket near the window looks great, but it’s inviting to molds and even fruit flies!

Keep food cool

Keep perishable items in the refrigerator right after purchasing.

  • It helps to pre-chop food items that you’ve planned to cook within the next few days.
  • Peeling them, cutting them up and storing them in airtight containers reduces risk of spreading molds to other food items.

Fridge full? Freeze!

Freeze excess food supply, whether cooked or raw, which you could not consume in the coming 3-4 days.

  • Again, use clean, air-tight containers for this.
  • It’s a great idea to freeze food in single portions.
  • Divide into portions to make it possible to only thaw exactly what you need. Refreezing thawed food is a big “no-no”.
  • Label the food containers with a felt pen and a sticker, adding the date. This will help prioritize when you eat them.

Storing fruits whole and raw

Entire fruits and vegetables can also be stored with care and proper storage, even without a refrigerator or freezer.

Take a look at these two examples:

Make preserves

There are a host of ways of making preserves. Preserves make it possible to eat fruits and vegetables long after they would normally have molded away.

  • An example: preserving Mahonia berries
  • Other techniques include dehydrating (there are different ways of doing that), pickling, and salt or sugar treatments.

Smart tip about avoiding mold

The ultimate solution to avoid mold is to grow your own food! It meets all the goals listed above, with the added pleasure of savoring your own work, too!

Image credits, own work: Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois