The Food Disgust Test is the latest silly way to waste time online, and like any good test, it reveals things about ourselves we may never have thought to question. Is it gross to be served a fish with its head on? Do you eat bananas with black spots on the peel?
The test, based on the Food Disgust Scale developed by scientists Christina Hartmann and Michael Siegrist, divides your disgust into eight distinct scales. For example, you might be more grossed out by seeing that fish head than by eating jam where the mould was scraped off — or vice versa.
But after you take the test, you may be wondering: How many of these things are actually bad for us? The mould items in particular have sparked a lot of discussion: If I’m not grossed out by the mould-adjacent jam, should I be?
Let’s see how some of the most controversial items on the test compare to food safety recommendations.
Mould on jam
The quiz contains this statement, which you have to decide whether you agree with: “I will not eat marmalade from which mould has been removed from the surface.”
This one is confusing because the advice has changed over the years. It used to be thought that the molds that grow on the surface of jams and jellies are not harmful and haven’t spread throughout the jam. Scoop them out and you’re good. Healthy Canning has collected answers to this question from a variety of sources around the world, and found that UK celebrity chefs, for example, tend to say it’s fine to eat the jam as long as you’ve removed the mould with a healthy margin around it.
But more recent research has found that mycotoxins (toxins produced by mould) are sometimes found in jams and jellies that have mould on the surface.
It is common to scrape the mould off jams and jellies and eat the rest, but it’s not without risk. So, yes, people have scraped the mould off, eaten the jam, and been fine. But the current recommendation from the USDA and others is to throw out the whole jar if you find mould on the surface.
Mould on tomato sauce
What about tomato sauce? This wasn’t included in the quiz, but it’s another jarred product where mould commonly grows on the surface or on the upper parts of the jar while the sauce still tastes fine.
Unfortunately, this one is clearer: Moldy tomato sauce has a body count. Healthy Canning quotes Putting Food By on a case where two people died from botulism poisoning after eating tomato sauce that had Botulinum toxins in it. Botulinum is a bacteria, not a mould, but the problem is that the mould altered the chemistry of the tomato sauce.
Tomato sauce, like jams and jellies, keeps so well after canning because it is too acidic for Botulinum and other bacteria to grow. But once mould gets a foothold, the mould can raise the pH of the sauce, making it less acidic. (This is a potential danger with moldy jam as well.) So chuck that moldy tomato sauce, too.
Mould on bread
“It is sickening to eat bread from which mould has been cut away,” the quiz prompts. Agree or disagree?
The quiz wants to find out how disgusted you are by the idea. The USDA, on the other hand, simply says: “Discard.”
There are many different species of molds that grow on bread, although they tend not to be deadly. Some can cause allergies or respiratory issues if you sniff the spores, though. In rare cases, they have made people sick. And they tend to make the bread taste gross.
By the time you see soft fuzzy spots on the surface of the bread, you can be pretty sure that the nearly invisible, thread-like mycelia (the “roots,” in a sense) have been growing throughout the bread for a while. If you cut off a large chunk — say, half the loaf — you may have gotten rid of the mould on that part of the bread. But there’s a good chance you have more mould spots forming on what looks like the still-fresh part of the bread.
Again, this is a case where people have cut off the visible part of the mould and lived to tell the tale, but if you don’t want to consume mould, you really should chuck the loaf.
Mould on cheese
“I find it gross to eat hard cheese from which mould has been cut off.” How do you feel about that one? If you disagree, congratulations — you can eat hard cheeses once you cut off the mould.
The USDA recommends cutting away a full inch of cheese around the moldy spot, and making sure your knife doesn’t cut through the mould in the process. (It could then contaminate other foods.)
Soft cheeses don’t get off so easy, though. If you’re eating a cheese that was prepared with mould — like brie, with its soft Penicillium rind — that mould is fine. So if you find some old brie in your fridge, and the mould has grown over the cut edges of the cheese, don’t worry about it. But if you find mould on your soft cheese that was not the kind used to make the cheese, it’s time to say goodbye. The USDA doesn’t give guidance on how to tell the difference, but if it’s not obviously the same as the rest of the mould, you should consider it an interloper.
When you can eat mould
Before we move on to non-mould gross food questions, I’d like to bring you some more good news from the USDA: it is totally fine to eat moldy hard salami; just scrub the mould off.
You can also eat the non-moldy parts of hard fruits and vegetables like cabbage and bell peppers. You should not eat soft fruits and vegetables after they go moldy, like peaches and tomatoes.
Blood in steak
The quiz asks us whether we agree or disagree with the statement, “I do not like to eat steak that is still bloody inside.”
Technically, it’s not blood; you’re seeing the myoglobin (a protein in muscle) leaking out of the meat. In any case, myoglobin appears red at rare and medium-rare temperatures, but turns into tan or grey coloured compounds at higher temperatures.
So if “bloody” steak grosses you out, you probably won’t be eating anything cooked less than medium. That means your steaks will be cooked to 140-145 degrees or more, neatly matching the USDA’s advice to cook steaks to an internal temperature of 145 and then allow them to rest for three minutes.
While rare steaks are riskier than medium-well, they’re safe-ish to eat because they’re a solid piece of meat. Harmful bacteria are likely to stay on or near the surface, and the searing should take care of those germs even if the internal temperature is still lower than recommended. Again: not zero risk, but low enough that many people choose to risk it.
Ground beef is another story, though. Germs from the surface can end up getting mixed throughout the batch, so the inside of your hamburger isn’t inherently any safer than the outside. The USDA recommends cooking burgers to 160 degrees.
Worms in apples
“I would not eat part of an apple that had a worm in another part of it,” the quiz prompts. I’ve made applesauce from homegrown apples, and if I had to discard every apple that a worm had touched, there would have been no applesauce.
Fortunately, wormy apples are safe to eat. Unlike the issues with mould, you can see the worms. And their trails, and their frass (the dry brown stuff that, I regret to inform you, is worm poop). In fact, you could probably eat the worms themselves if you really wanted; they’re not known to be poisonous.
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