Q: Is it really true that 100-year-old canned food was really safe? That’s what I heard!
Answer: In at least one instance, yes. The record that I know of was 109 years to be exact. It was from a steamboat (the Bertrand) that sank in the Missouri River in 1865. The boat was carrying supplies for the forts and gold miners in Montana when it ran aground.
In 1968, the remains were found, buried by the river, in a field north of Omaha, Neb. The farmer gave permission for the excavation, so the archaeologists went to work. They dug up jars of canned peaches, tomatoes, oysters, honey and mixed vegetables from under 30 feet of mud.
In 1974, the jars were tested in the labs of the National Food Processors Association. All of the jars were found to be safe. There was no bacteria growth, no mold or other spoilage that would make them unsafe. They didn’t look nearly as good, but they wouldn’t have made anyone sick. That’s not to say I’d recommend storing your food that long! But it does say that properly canned food is not going to spoil, especially if it’s kept cool.
Q: How safe is squash if the top is fuzzy? It might be moldy, but I’m not sure.
Answer: Squash stems usually are fuzzy, but that’s not mold. If you rub the fuzzy part and it’s rough and hard, that’s not mold. What you’re seeing is the normal hairy stems that most vegetables in the cucumber family have. Go ahead and use the squash.
If when you rub the fuzzy area the top just slides off, if it’s soft under the fuzzy area or mushy or slimy, then that’s probably mold.
Now the next question is, what kind of squash are you talking about? If this is on summer squash, yellow squash or zucchini, just throw the whole thing away. But if this is on winter squash, then you can probably salvage some of it. Trim away all the soft areas. Then trim another inch the whole way around it. Then cut it open and look at the seeds inside.
If the mold was just on the surface, which you’ve cut away, and the seeds and strings inside look healthy, you can safely use the rest of the squash. But if the seeds or insides look moldy or discolored, then throw the rest of it away, too. Once mold reaches the seeds inside, throw the whole thing away. Add it to the compost pile!
The reason for the difference is that the toxins molds may produce can move through water. Summer squashes, including zucchini, are so moist and have so much water that if there’s a mold spot on the surface, the mold is probably rooted much farther away inside the squash. And the toxins are probably spread even farther past the ends of the inside fibers of mold. You can’t see or tell how far the mold or its toxins have spread. So just pitch the whole thing.
This recommendation is for all soft, moist fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, strawberries and any others. But hard winter squash is not as moist. Molds are usually more limited in how far they spread beyond the soft area, and the toxins won’t move as far. So a small spot of mold can be removed, with lots of extra squash around it for safety. Plus, they’re usually much larger than zucchini, so you can cut away enough of it to be safe and still have something that is worth using.
Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsbor ough County Extension, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.