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

   By divinecaroline  Jul 12, 2010

I 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 apple or 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.


What do you do with fruits and veggies that are past their prime?

Make a Comment

Tfurr64 by Tfurr64 | Fort Smith, AR
Oct 09, 2010

This will save me a lot of money and shocks me how much money I have basically thrown away

wilktitus by wilktitus | FAIRBURN, GA
Aug 02, 2010

we always use imperfect/bruised soft fruits in baking/cooking but never for canning.

blueeyes1 by blueeyes1 | Topeka, KS
Jul 30, 2010

Thank you for the informative article. I must admit I have always wondered what is safe to eat and what needs to be thrown away... seems I've been throwing some good stuff away for a loss of good money.

WithOurBest by WithOurBest | LAFAYETTE, CO
Jul 22, 2010

Thanks for the list. I always wonder about food going bad!

Dyiemond by Dyiemond | Orlando, FL
Jul 17, 2010

Yess, I just threw away a large hunk of parmasian cheese cause it had mold all around it. My cousin told me i should have just cut the moldy parts off and used the rest. Thanks for the info.

sugarsnatcher by sugarsnatcher | OAKBORO, NC
Jul 15, 2010

With fruits, I normally just cut the bruises out and eat the rest. After all, with all the shipping, there's bound to be a little bumping along the way. But the idea of mold on anything grosses me out. I've seen people cut mold off of cheese and bread, eat it and be fine. I guess my problem is my upbringing with a father who was very particular when it came to food expiration.

Nikole12303 by Nikole12303 | Schenectady, NY
Jul 14, 2010

I never knew what to keep or throw away this article really helped thank you!

jlindseyc by jlindseyc | LEXINGTON, KY
Jul 14, 2010

I was very surprised by this article...I personally never think twice about cutting off a bad place in produce, cheese or bread and using the "good" part. Thanks for bringing up the potential hazards to this attitude.

joy9281 by joy9281 | TOLEDO, OH
Jul 12, 2010

Thanks for the tips! These are very helpful I always wonder how you can tell if it must be thrown away or not.