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What should I do if I accidentally drank mold?

Introduction

Consuming moldy foods or beverages can be dangerous. Mold produces mycotoxins, which are toxic substances that can make you sick. While accidentally ingesting a small amount of mold is unlikely to cause serious harm in most cases, it’s still a good idea to take precautions if you think you may have consumed mold. Here’s a guide to what to do if you accidentally drank something containing mold.

Assess the Situation

The first step is to try to determine how much mold you may have ingested. Was it just a sip of a moldy beverage? Or did you consume a large portion of food covered in mold? The more mold involved, the higher the potential risk.

Also consider what type of beverage or food it was. Mold can grow in many foods and drinks, but the highest risk items include:

  • Fruit juices
  • Wine
  • Soft drinks
  • Bread and baked goods
  • Some dairy products

Moldy products like these can contain mycotoxins at levels high enough to cause illness.

Finally, look at the mold itself. Black mold, green mold, and other very colorful growth tend to be more hazardous than white or gray mold. Fuzzy mold is also more likely to produce mycotoxins than dry, powdery mold.

Monitor Symptoms

Pay attention to any symptoms that develop after ingesting the mold. Possible symptoms include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness

Symptoms may appear within hours or could take a few days to develop. The type and severity usually depends on the amount of mold consumed and the sensitivity of the individual. People with compromised immune systems may experience more severe reactions.

When to Seek Medical Care

In most cases of accidentally ingesting a small amount of mold, symptoms can be managed at home. However, seek prompt medical attention if you experience:

  • Blood in vomit or stool
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vision changes or blurred vision
  • Severe vomiting where you can’t keep liquids down
  • High fever
  • Signs of shock like rapid heart rate, clammy skin, or feeling faint
  • Worsening symptoms or no improvement after a few days

These signs could indicate a serious condition like mold poisoning that requires treatment. People with weakened immune systems should also consult a doctor as soon as possible after ingesting mold.

Medical Treatment

If you see a healthcare provider, they will likely ask about your symptoms and when you consumed the mold. Be prepared to explain exactly what you drank or ate and how much of it appeared moldy.

Depending on your symptoms, the doctor may:

  • Prescribe antifungal medication to fight the effects of mycotoxins
  • Give IV fluids or medication for dehydration caused by vomiting or diarrhea
  • Treat allergic reactions with antihistamines
  • Monitor your kidney and liver function for signs of toxin damage
  • Admit you to the hospital for close monitoring if poisoning is severe

Follow all your doctor’s recommendations for treatment, testing, and follow-up monitoring. Prompt medical care can greatly improve the outlook with mold ingestion.

At-Home Treatment

For mild to moderate symptoms, you can usually treat yourself at home using the following methods:

  • Get plenty of rest – Allow your body time to fight the effects of the mycotoxins
  • Stay hydrated – Drink water, broth, or electrolyte beverages to counter fluids lost from vomiting or diarrhea
  • Eat bland foods – Stick to foods like crackers, rice, applesauce or toast until nausea passes
  • Take OTC medication – Use antacids, antihistamines, or antidiarrheals to control symptoms
  • Avoid alcohol – Don’t drink any alcohol, which could worsen gut issues or dehydration

Make sure to get medical care if symptoms don’t start to improve within 2-3 days. Never try to self-treat severe symptoms at home without seeing a doctor.

Avoid Further Exposure

Check your kitchen and get rid of any food or beverage items that could also have mold contamination. Mold can spread quickly to many foods and drinks. This is especially true for permeable products like soft cheeses, berries, tomatoes, melons, peanuts, jams, and more.

Be on the lookout for moldy foods and toss anything that looks or smells off. Sanitize any containers, utensils, or surfaces that may have touched the moldy item. Improving kitchen hygiene can prevent re-exposure while you recover.

Consider Probiotics

Some research indicates probiotic supplements may help bind toxins and reduce GI symptoms caused by mycotoxins. Talk to your doctor about whether probiotic use is recommended. If so, look for a high-quality supplement containing strains like:

  • Lactobacillus
  • Bifidobacterium
  • Saccharomyces

Take probiotics as directed, usually with meals. Give them at least a few weeks to take effect. Probiotics may help restore your gut microbiome after a toxin attack.

See an Allergist

If you experience a severe allergic reaction after consuming mold, make an appointment with an allergist. They can determine if you have a mold allergy using skin or blood tests. This is most likely with exposure to penicillin or Alternaria molds.

If diagnosed with a mold allergy, your doctor will recommend avoiding triggers and possibly prescribe epinephrine autoinjectors in case of anaphylaxis. Prompt allergy treatment is vital for preventing serious reactions to molds down the road.

Outlook and Prevention

The prognosis is generally good when proper treatment is obtained. Most healthy adults recover fully within a week after accidentally ingesting a small to moderate amount of mold. Severe reactions are unlikely but can occur in those with weak immunity or chronic health conditions.

To avoid repeat exposure, be diligent about inspecting foods and throwing out anything questionable. Mycotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing, so moldy items can never be made safe. Check homemade beverages and fermented foods regularly for signs of contamination. Follow good food safety practices when handling, preparing, and storing foods to minimize mold growth.

While recovering, get plenty of rest and nutrition to support your body’s natural detoxification process. Stay hydrated and take care of your GI system. With proper treatment and monitoring, you can expect to make a full recovery after accidentally drinking mold. However, seek prompt medical care if symptoms are severe or persistent.

When to Throw Out Moldy Foods

If you spot mold on food, it’s best to be on the safe side and throw it out. But when is it absolutely necessary? Here are some guidelines on when to discard moldy items:

Bread and Baked Goods

Discard the entire item if any mold is detected. Mold can spread easily and invisibly in bread products, so err on the side of caution. Even a tiny spot of mold can indicate mycotoxins may be present. Don’t try to cut off or scrape the moldy parts.

Hard Cheeses

Cut off at least 1 inch around and below any moldy spots. After trimming the area, rewrap and continue monitoring cheese for additional mold growth.

Soft Cheeses

Throw away if mold is detected. The soft, porous texture allows mold to spread rapidly throughout. It’s not worth the risk.

Fruits and Vegetables

Firmer produce can simply be trimmed. Cut off 1-2 inches around and below the moldy area. Discard any pieces that are very mushy or slimy. Softer fruits should be discarded completely at first signs of mold.

Cooked Meat and Poultry

Leftover cooked meat is prone to mold growth. Discard cooked meats if mold is spotted. Don’t rely on cooking/reheating to kill mycotoxins.

Peanut Butter and Legumes

Look closely before discarding, as some discoloration on the surface may simply be oil separation, not mold. But if fuzzy mold is visible, throw it away to be safe.

Moldy Beverages

Juices, wine, beer, coffee drinks and other beverages should always be tossed out immediately if mold contamination is detected. Fluids allow rapid dispersal of toxins.

When in doubt about a food, remember mycotoxins are nearly impossible to remove. Paying close attention to expiration dates, storage instructions, and signs of spoilage can minimize mold risk. If mold is spotted, don’t chance it – throw it out!

Common Types of Food and Beverage Mold

There are various molds that can grow in foods and drinks if conditions are right. Some of the most common include:

Penicillium

This genus includes blue mold frequently found on fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese and bread. It produces mycotoxins like ochratoxin A, patulin, and citrinin.

Alternaria

A dark mold that grows on grains, fruits and vegetables. It makes toxins like tenuazonic acid and altertoxins that can be carcinogenic.

Aspergillus

Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus produce the harmful aflatoxins. These are often found on corn, peanuts and cereals.

Fusarium

A pink or white mold on grains that makes trichothecenes and zearalenone mycotoxins. These are common wheat and barley contaminants.

Cladosporium

This black mold is most common on strawberries, tomatoes, apricots and grapes. It can cause asthma attacks and respiratory irritation.

Mucor

A fast spreading grayish mold that grows on jams, fruits, dairy, bread and plants. Mucor contamination causes food spoilage and shelf life reduction.

Knowing what to look for can help you identify hazardous molds on food. Watch for mold growth when preparing and storing food to minimize health risks. Promptly discard anything that looks or smells moldy.

Mold Growth Conditions

Why does mold grow so easily in certain foods and beverages? Here are some common conditions that encourage food mold contamination:

  • Warm temperatures – between 40°F and 100°F
  • Humidity above 60% RH
  • Low acid content – pH higher than 4.6
  • Low oxygen environment
  • Damage to food surface – cuts, bruises
  • Prolonged storage time
  • Lack of preservatives or microbial competitors

Mold spores are everywhere in our environment. Given the right circumstances, they can quickly germinate and colonize susceptible items. Some molds even produce mycotoxins and other preserving compounds that prevent other microbes from invading and competing.

To limit growth, store perishable foods at proper temperatures and humidity. Inspect regularly for early signs of spoilage. Follow all food expiration and storage recommendations. Proper handling and containment reduces the chances for molds to thrive.

How Mycotoxins Harm Health

Eating moldy food can make you sick because of mycotoxins. Here are some of the ways these toxic compounds negatively impact the body:

  • Disrupt cell membranes – Leakage of vital solutes out of cells occurs
  • Damage mitochondria – Cellular energy production is impaired
  • Suppress immune function – Both innate and adaptive immunity are inhibited
  • Interfere with protein synthesis – Vital proteins cannot form properly
  • Modify DNA – Genetic mutations and cancer formation may result
  • Cause oxidative stress – Harmful reactive molecules damage tissues

The resulting problems from these mechanisms include:

  • Gastrointestinal issues – nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Respiratory problems – irritation, asthma attacks
  • Kidney toxicity – potential kidney failure
  • Liver damage – jaundice, cirrhosis
  • Reproductive issues – infertility, birth defects
  • Neurological effects – tremors, seizures
  • Cancer – carcinogenic properties
  • Weakened immunity – frequent infections

Mycotoxins act systemically once ingested. Treatment aims to control symptoms, repair damage, and prevent additional toxin exposure. Eating moldy food should always be avoided, especially for sensitive individuals.

Are Mycotoxins Heat Resistant?

Unfortunately, mycotoxins are very resistant molecules. Heating, boiling, baking, pressure cooking, microwaving, or other high temperature food preparation methods do NOT destroy these toxic compounds. Freezing also has no effect. Once mycotoxins contaminate food, they will remain in edible items no matter how you process or preserve it.

Mycotoxin Heat Stability Data

Here is some data on the heat stability of common mycotoxins:

Mycotoxin Heat Resistance
Aflatoxin Stable up to 237°C
Ochratoxin Stable up to 150°C
Trichothecenes Stable up to 290°C
Zearalenones Stable up to 150°C
Fumonisins Stable up to 150°C

As you can see, mycotoxins retain toxicity even when exposed to extremely high temperatures. Cooking cannot remove or neutralize these hazards once present. Preventing mold growth and avoiding ingestion are the only ways to limit health risks. Promptly discard any foods or drinks that are moldy.

How Are Mycotoxins Regulated?

Because of the health dangers, government agencies regulate the maximum permissible levels of some mycotoxins in foods and animal feed. Here are some examples of regulatory limits in places:

  • The FDA limits aflatoxin to 20 parts per billion (ppb) in foods and 0.5 ppb in milk
  • European Union regulations prohibit ochratoxin A above 3 ppb in cereals and 5 ppb in coffee
  • Maximum fumonisin levels range from 2-4 ppm for corn and corn products in the U.S. and E.U.
  • Deoxynivalenol (DON) is limited to 1 ppm in grains, flours, and finished wheat products by FDA standards

Testing of agricultural products and food monitoring helps minimize the spread of mycotoxin contamination. But mold growth and toxin formation can still occur after processing if conditions allow. Consumers should remain vigilant as well, avoiding any edible items with mold present. While regulations provide guidance, the best approach is to completely avoid consuming known mycotoxin sources.

Foods Most Susceptible to Mycotoxins

Some types of foods provide environments very conducive to mycotoxin production. Dietary staples at higher risk include:

  • Corn – Prone to aflatoxin formation
  • Wheat – Deoxynivalenol and zearalenone toxin risk
  • Barley – May contain ochratoxin and trichothecenes
  • Rice – Can harbor several Fusarium mycotoxins