When you accidentally eat mold, this is what happens

Mold is gross, no doubt about it. Opening a container of strawberries or a loaf of bread and seeing the familiar bluish-gray fuzz is totally cringe-worthy. But what if you don't spot the mold until after you've eaten half your sandwich or a few strawberries? Are you destined to get sick?

Mold is a microscopic fungi that is practically ubiquitous in our environments, since it's found indoors and outdoors, and can grow wherever there are high levels of moisture, low light, and above-freezing temperatures — think basements, bathrooms, and refrigerators.

According to The Mold Source, there are over 100,000 types of mold. Thankfully, most of them are harmless to healthy individuals with strong immune systems. Marina Yuabova, D.N.P., a doctor of nursing practice and nurse practitioner in New York City, told Shape, "When the immune system works well, and healthy gut flora is abundant, molds will have no negative impact on the health and wellness of that individual." In other words, most of the time, if you accidentally eat a bit of something moldy, you should just forget about it and move on. As Rudolph Bedford, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica told Women's Health Magazine, "You're not going to die from eating mold."

Some types of mold are actually good for you

For some people though, exposure to mold — whether eaten or otherwise — can cause an allergic reaction or respiratory illness. And while most molds are ultimately harmless, a few, under the right conditions, produce poisonous substances called mycotoxins, which can make you really sick.

But what about moldy blue cheese? And what if you really don't want to chuck that smoked gouda because of the moldy corner section? Well, here's some good news: blue-veined cheeses are actually made with Penicillium mold spores, and are perfectly safe (and even healthy) to eat (via Food & Wine).

When it comes to the food in our kitchens, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has put out some handy guidelines on how to handle mold. For hard cheeses and firm fruits and vegetables (like carrots), cut off at least one inch around and below the moldy area, being careful to keep the knife away from the mold so as not to contaminate the rest of the food.

For soft fruits and vegetables, foods with a high moisture content (like yogurt and jams), and breads, it's safest to just toss the whole thing. That's because mold has 'roots' that can spread deep into soft foods, well below the visibly-moldy surface. Not only that, but bacteria can grow there along with the mold.

Even though a couple of bites of mold most likely won't make you sick, it's smart to err on the side of caution. "When in doubt, throw it out" isn't just a catch-phrase for recyclers — it's great advice in the kitchen too.