You may ask yourself this question every spring when the strawberries start to pile up at the grocery store and their price per container begins to drop: What do I do if some of the strawberries have mold on them? Well, we've got answers! Read on to find out what to do about moldy strawberries and tips for how to pick the freshest-possible berries.
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Strawberries are one of the earliest berries to hit stores and farmers' markets in spring, and these juicy red orbs are a joy of summer fruit eating. So there's nothing more disappointing than going to eat your berries only to discover mold. It's tempting to just wash off or cut away moldy parts, and consume the rest. But is it safe?

Is it OK to eat moldy strawberries?

If you find white fluffy stuff on your berries that looks a bit like cotton candy, that is mold. Mold is a fungus with spores that feed on the berries and grow thin threads that can look like fluff or cotton. This particular type of mold is common among fruits and is known as Botrytis fruit rot or gray mold. While moldy strawberries are unlikely to harm you, they can make you sick if you are allergic to molds in general, according to the USDA. And since berries are a soft-fleshed food, unlike apples or pears, it is not safe to simply cut away the moldy part, since the spores have likely gone into the flesh of the berry. If a berry is bruised, but does not show any signs of mold, the bruised part can be trimmed away. A moldy strawberry should be thrown out.

If you happen to accidentally eat a moldy strawberry, you'll know it because, usually, moldy strawberries will have an off flavor that is a bit sour and acidic and may remind you of blue cheese. The off taste is nature's red flag that your red berries are bad, if you missed the visual mold. A small amount of this mold is unlikely to make you sick. If you ate a larger amount, you might have some signs of gastric distress similar to mild food poisoning, but it should resolve on its own, and is not toxic or especially dangerous, just uncomfortable.

Close-Up Of Fungal Mold On Strawberries
Credit: Getty Images / Rok Stritof / EyeEm

What if just one strawberry is moldy?

If you open a container to discover what looks like one moldy berry but the rest seem fine, discard that berry and any berries in direct contact with it, and then wash the others well before eating. If you have a couple of moldy berries in your container and have removed all of the berries in direct contact with those, you can make a solution of mostly water plus white vinegar to wash the berries. Vinegar kills mold, which is the same reason we recommend using a vinegar and water solution to clean your humidifier. Use one part white vinegar (so you don't pickle your strawberries) to four parts water and soak the berries for five minutes before rinsing well, patting dry and storing. If more than one-quarter of the berries in a container are moldy, just throw it out.

How to choose the freshest strawberries

To avoid the mold problem, for starters, choose the freshest berries possible. Berries purchased at a farmers' market will likely be fresher than those at your grocery store. Check sell-by or best-by dates on consumer packaging and look for dates the furthest out. Check packages for signs of juice or moisture, which can indicate that berries on the bottom might have gotten smashed, since damaged berries are more likely to rot and mold.

You want berries that are bright red and shiny, without a dull or matte look, and with the seeds indented into the flesh. They should smell fragrant and sweet. Look for obvious signs of mold at the bottom of the container. You can ask at the farmers' market for them to transfer your berries from their carton into a bag, so that you can see if any are moldy underneath.

At the grocery store, you can transfer the berries to a produce bag to ensure that they are all fresh, and then return them in the bag to the original container to check out. If you do this and find molded berries, bring it to the attention of someone in the produce department, and ask them to help you find another package that is not moldy. Do not open and handle several packages to create your own perfect box of berries.

Bottom line

Strawberries should not be a source of fear, but when it comes to mold on these delicate fruits, be sure to err on the side of caution. Quickly remove and discard any berries that are moldy or are touching moldy berries, wash the rest well, and then dry them before storing to prevent new mold. And if more than a quarter of the berries in your container are moldy, discard the whole batch. If your berries were purchased at a grocery store and you discover the mold the same day, return them to the store, which should either give you a refund or replacement.

If you love fresh, sweet strawberries, you'll definitely want to try this easy-to-make treat, Strawberry-Chocolate Greek Yogurt Bark, or make a batch of these bars for a healthy snack on the go, Strawberry Crumble Bars—or go with this classic streusel version. Whatever way you like your strawberries, we've got the recipes.