How do you tell if bread or cheese has gone bad when it's not obvious?
September 29, 2005 4:28 PM   Subscribe

How do you tell if bread or cheese has gone bad when it's not obvious?

So sometimes bread has been sitting in its bag on the counter for a while, and I can't find any mold on it, and it smells vaguely alcoholic. Is it bad? Is there any benchmark for 'bad' bread aside from mold? If it doesnt have mold, is it not bad? What is bad?

Same thing for cheese. If you can't see different colored mold growing on the cheese, is it fine? What if it's a block of cheddar and it's kinda getting a little lighter on the outside? If it's just a little white but not clearly fuzzy, is it bad?
posted by sdis to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you mean bad like something bad will happen to you, or bad like it won't taste as good as when it was "unbad"?

My benchmark for bread is mold. My benchmark for cheese is mold, crust, oiliness and/or yeasty smells [on cheeses that are not supposed to have those things]. Usually with cheeses if you cut off the bad part the rest of it is fine. With bread I just usually taste it and toast/microwave it to get it edible if it tastes okay.
posted by jessamyn at 4:38 PM on September 29, 2005

With bread and cheese, if it isn't obviously bad, it isn't bad. It's still OK.
If the cheese is moldy, cut off the moldy bits—the rest will be fine.
If bread is moldy, just throw it out.
posted by bricoleur at 4:38 PM on September 29, 2005

Offhand, if it smells alcohol-ey, it's probably yeast-mediated, not mold.

The getting-lighter-on-the-outside is probably from dehydration.

I do a taste test, if it isn't too bad <shrug> I'll eat it. Besides, getting exposed to a small amounts of microbes is a good thing (let your kids play in the mud!).
posted by PurplePorpoise at 4:38 PM on September 29, 2005

bread - throw it out if it's covered with bluish spots (mold)

cheese - throw it out if it's covered with bluish spots (except when it's blue cheese, of course), or when if it's all dried up.

otherwise enjoy. Good idea jessamyn about using the microwave to kill any nasties when unsure.
posted by seawallrunner at 4:48 PM on September 29, 2005

Response by poster: "Do you mean bad like something bad will happen to you, or bad like it won't taste as good as when it was "unbad"?"

Good question; what is the difference in terms of an answer?

At what point does bread/cheese become bad tasting, and at what point does it then become bad for you?
posted by sdis at 4:54 PM on September 29, 2005

The real solution is not to buy so much of either that they go bad before you consume them.

But: Don't keep bread in plastic. Keep it in a paper bag or something. Yes, it dries out - but it's gradual, and day-old bread is actually preferable for toast.

Or freeze half of it, if you must.
posted by zadcat at 5:08 PM on September 29, 2005

All mold that grows on cheese is edible. I'm not saying 'eat it up, yee-ha', just saying it won't hurt you even if it is a bit past it. Remember, cheese is already bad!
posted by Miko at 5:17 PM on September 29, 2005

I learned this the hard way: cheese that smells funny but is not visibly bad can still be really nasty to eat. It won't kill you, it will only make your dinner miserable. My particular bad experiences involve feta, which starts to taste soapy and weird.

As other people said, cut off the moldy bits on cheeses that otherwise seem normal. I've reduced the need to do this by being ultra-careful about not touching the whole chunk when taking a slice.
posted by whatzit at 5:20 PM on September 29, 2005

Neither moldy cheese nor moldy bread will hurt you.
posted by cali at 5:25 PM on September 29, 2005

Microwaving may kill any microbes, but endotoxin - the substance(s) that actually mediate food poisoning, not the microbes themselves - can persist despite really high temperatures. Nuking food with a lot of contamination isn't going to make it safe-to-eat.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 5:28 PM on September 29, 2005

mold on bread = bad
mold on cheese = cut off mold and eat cheese
posted by Frasermoo at 5:31 PM on September 29, 2005

Moldy cheese or bread, including blue cheese fresh from your grocery cooler, can hurt you if you happen to have an allergy to that particular mold. You probably don't.
posted by Carbolic at 6:09 PM on September 29, 2005

A few notes:

* leaving the original wrapper on the cheese, removing it an inch at a time, and storing it in a closed plastic bag that was fresh when first used on the cheese, sharply reduces the chance of molding.

* a cotton ball with a bit of white vinegar kept in the bag with the cheese will eliminate the risk of mold; where it contacts the cheese it will discolour and flavour the cheese.

* the visible part of a mold is the sex organ, and is the least part of the mold. The rest of it is hidden as mycelium (?) threaded through the cheese. Yum!

* I watched a fellow making cheese at a local factory. He was a short and swarthy Italian-looking guy with gorilla fur on his arms. He was working bare-armed with the curd. Yum!

* mini baby bell cheeses, those little jobbers about the diameter of silver dollar, dipped in red or yellow wax? They are perfect for backpacking. The heat just makes 'em more spreadable, and the wax keeps the oil from spreading hell and wide.

* the best foods in life are already rotten: cheeses, wines, yogurts, beer, olives... mmm.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:30 PM on September 29, 2005 [3 favorites]

the best foods in life are already rotten

Agreed. Don't forget chocolate!

Fermentation is civilization.
posted by Miko at 6:49 PM on September 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

My motto: When in doubt, toss it out.

27 years old, and no botulism yet!
posted by mullingitover at 6:50 PM on September 29, 2005

I've found that cheese that smells like ammonia is BAD.
(Yes, you'd think the smell of ammonia would keep me from eating it anyway, but that is not apparently true. But now I know!)
posted by librarina at 7:36 PM on September 29, 2005

the best foods in life are already rotten

Agreed. Don't forget chocolate!

Fermentation is civilization.

Don't forget kimchi!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:48 PM on September 29, 2005

As a side note, I'm assuming plastic is better than foil for cheese? I like the vinegar trick, and I'll keep trying to just pull the wrapper back enough for that slice. I'm so sick of opening my gorgeous sharp cheddar to find it covered in little mold sex organs, as fff says. I love my blue cheese too, but it seems as though my fridge-brewed blue isn't nearly the same.

Joseph Gurl writes "Don't forget kimchi!"

Don't forget huitlacoche!
posted by fionab at 8:19 PM on September 29, 2005

Olives are rotten?
posted by Imperfect at 8:55 PM on September 29, 2005

That alcoholic smell in bread is normal; means the yeast are still working.

Spoiled food can kill you without being easily detectable. When in doubt, throw it out.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:10 PM on September 29, 2005

I have always just cut the mold off cheese and eaten it. ..the cheese, not the mold. But, one time there was more mold than usual (it was all over the cheddar) and I trimmed it off and put it in the eggs anyway. Not good. It ruined the meal. The cheese was definitely bad throughout. So some mold is okay on cheese, but if it's covered in mold, you gotta toss it, which is in line with five fresh fish's third point. I use the same rules with bread.
posted by wsg at 9:34 PM on September 29, 2005

According the the Mayo Clinic's info on mouldy cheese, "mold on cheese that's not part of the manufacturing process can harbor harmful bacteria, such as listeria, brucella, salmonella and E. coli ." UC Davis sheds more light on mould and food..

Ask Men on the shelf life of food -- or ask HGTV. Health Goods has more info and says bread lasts 5-7 days.

And microwaving is not a good choice for making food safe. It's conceivable that microwaving to a certain temperature could kill the bacteria/mould. However, even dead bacteria/mould may still harbour toxins, especially if you didn't quite get the food to a high enough temperature.

One year, for New Year's, my mom gave everyone in the family a one-page sheet on shelf lives. I taped it to the inside of my cover. I get the "flu" much less often, and I had previously thought myself vigilant. Before then, I didn't know spaghetti sauce was only good for 3-5 days. (Ah, university...)
posted by acoutu at 11:13 PM on September 29, 2005

mold on cheese that's not part of the manufacturing process can harbor harmful bacteria, such as listeria, brucella, salmonella and E. coli . can every single food in your refrigerator, and as can your unwashed hands. There's nothing about these bacteria that's particular to mold and/or cheese - they arrive because of surface contamination.

Seriously, those links are good cooperative extension baselines on food safety, BUT remember that they are the most conservative guidelines. Foodborne illness is certainly common and it's worth being informed about, but it can be taken to a silly extreme.
posted by Miko at 6:25 AM on September 30, 2005

fionab: real cheesers say that plastic is bad, that you should wrap your cheese in waxed paper. The idea being that the cheese is "alive" and needs to "breathe". With a block of cheddar from the corner store I would probably not bother, and just wrap it in plastic to keep it in stasis; but with a nice, aged, artisanal cheese I always go the waxed paper route, because I shouldn't keep it sitting around too long anyway.

From a great, otherwise-unrelated
of Frontline:
For example, if I know that in America the cheese is dead, which means is pasteurized, which means legally dead and scientifically dead, and we don't want any cheese that is alive, then I have to put that up front. I have to say this cheese is safe, is pasteurized, is wrapped up in plastic. I know that plastic is a body bag. You can put it in the fridge. I know the fridge is the morgue; that's where you put the dead bodies. And so once you know that, this is the way you market cheese in America.

I started working with a French company in America, and they were trying to sell French cheese to the Americans. And they didn't understand, because in France the cheese is alive, which means that you can buy it young, mature or old, and that's why you have to read the age of the cheese when you go to buy the cheese. So you smell, you touch, you poke. If you need cheese for today, you want to buy a mature cheese. If you want cheese for next week, you buy a young cheese. And when you buy young cheese for next week, you go home, [but] you never put the cheese in the refrigerator, because you don't put your cat in the refrigerator. It's the same; it's alive. We are very afraid of getting sick with cheese. By the way, more French people die eating cheese than Americans die. But the priority is different; the logic of emotion is different. The French like the taste before safety. Americans want safety before the taste.
I find foil pretty lacking for wrapping anything, except giant things that are OK if they dry out.
posted by xueexueg at 6:42 AM on September 30, 2005

The badness of mold depends on the kind of cheese; I seem to recall reading that the mold-badness travels through softer/wetter cheeses faster... On this theory, with a hard cheese like cheddar, you can safely cut off a solitary dize-sized surface mold spot and keep using the block. A softer, wetter cheese like feta, it's not as safe to do that; I would chuck the block.

Shelf life of bread also depends on what kind. Supermarket breads usually have lots of preservatives and can last a week or even more. Bread mold loves darkness, so if you find your bread going moldy very fast, try moving it to a spot with more light.

A tip about bread that has gone stale. French bread (baguette) may get hard if stored in a paper bag for a couple of days, or may get too soft (not nice and crusty) if stored in plastic. Either way it can be rehabilitated by 5 minutes in a 200-degree F oven.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:02 AM on September 10, 2006

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