Why are my meatballs turning colors? by R.S.

Knock, knock. “Cecelia, can I come in?” “Yes, Mom” said Cecelia as she was lying down on her bedroom carpet looking at the black furry mass of moldy meatballs through her clear plastic container.  “Here is your knapsack. Oh, what is that?” asked Cecelia’s Mom. “It’s moldy meatballs, Mom.” “Mold, oh, don’t open that container. Why do you have that in your room?” asked Cecelia’s Mom with a puzzled scrunched up face.

“It’s a science project on mold. My science teacher, Mr. Fields, gave instruction sheets to the class on how to observe mold safely as we report on what is mold and what mold does to food.  There were a few choices that we could choose from. The list had fruits, vegetables or a favorite meal. I choose my favorite meal, meatballs in tomato sauce” said Cecelia. “Is that the meatballs with tomato sauce I made more than two weeks ago?” asked Cecelia’s Mom.   “Yes, it sure is. I have been observing and writing down all the changes that have been taking place to my meatballs for three weeks. I’ll be handing in my report tomorrow” said Cecelia.

“Can you tell me what is mold and what you have observed?” asked Cecelia’s Mom curiously.  “Sure Mom! I just finished the last page” Cecelia said excitedly as she flipped through her report to the first page.  “Ready?” “Yes, I’m ready Cecelia.”

“My report is titled ”Why are my meatballs turning colors? A mold experiment”.

“Subject:  Meatballs and tomato sauce in a sealed container”

“Total Observation time: 3 Weeks”

“Place:  On a corner shelf in my bedroom with no sunlight”

“In order to understand the changes that take place to food as mold starts to grow on it, we must first know what mold is” stated Cecelia.

“What is mold?  Mold is a microscopic fungi, also known as  fungus. Fungus grows in the form of multiple filaments called hyphae.  The hyphae are tiny thread size white strands that grow over the surface of food resulting in discoloration and a fuzzy appearance.  There are more than 100,000 different types of fungus species. Mold can also grow in different shapes and sizes. Some mold can grow as stalks that look like broccoli or mushroom stalks.  Some mold can grow round and fuzzy, that look like round shaggy carpets. In order for mold to grow, it needs moisture and energy. The mold receives moisture from the food, and energy from organic matter, also known as meat, vegetables, and fruit.  As mold grows, it starts to break down the food” said Cecelia.

“Can you explain to me how mold breaks down food?” asked Cecelia’s Mom.

Cecelia nodded.    “Mold secretes enzymes that is received from the food. The enzymes breaks down the organic matter causing the food to deteriorate over time.  As the moisture builds up, the fungus grows faster and faster. Mold reproduces quickly by producing large numbers of spores. The spores give mold the color we see on the food.  Some spores can form on food that resemble plant roots, sometimes seen on string beans, lentils, or kidney beans. Spores can look like wiry thread, sometimes seen on fruit such as oranges, lemons, or limes.  Spores can look like fuzzy white cotton candy on cheese, or fur and worms on meat that can change colors from white to green, to black in color.” said Cecelia. “Very interesting. What were your observations during your experiment?” asked Cecelia’s Mom.

“My Observation: Week One:”

“I put three large meatballs in tomato sauce inside a plastic sealed container.  I sealed the container with tape. After the first week, I noticed that there was white fuzz on top of the meatballs.  The tomato sauce turned a darker shade of red and looked clumpy with small spots of white greenish mold”.

“My Observation Week Two:”

“The meatballs and tomato sauce are covered with hairy looking greyish white and green mold.”  “The tomato sauce is covered with dark greenish black mold”.

“My Observation Week Three:”

“The meatballs and sauce cannot be seen.  There is a large dark green black looking mass of mold inside the container.  The meatballs have completely deteriorated. The result is the complete breakdown of the organic matter, covered with mold.  The mold changed colors from white, to green, to black. Looks gooey. Yuck!” said Cecelia.

“What can we do to stop mold from growing on our food?” asked Cecelia’s Mom.

“I’m glad you asked Mom.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture,  the best way to preserve food from going bad and becoming spoiled by mold is bottling, freezing, salting, and pickling.  When serving food outdoors, try to keep the food covered at all times. This will help to protect the food by preventing mold spores that are in the air from landing on your food.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture highly recommends storing food in clean containers and to refrigerate the food immediately. Don’t leave any perishable food outside of the refrigerator for more than two hours.  Foods such as milk, butter, eggs, uncooked meat, certain cheeses, all can be ruined if left outside for more than two hours. Leftover food should be eaten within 3 to 4 days, so mold can’t grow. Mold can smell very bad.  It can fill the air with a scent of rotted onions. Never, ever, smell or sniff mold on any type of food. Sniffing mold may cause respiratory breathing problems” stated Cecelia.

“If there is any moldy fur on meat, or if the meat turns dark and smells, don’t cook it or eat it.  If there is green fuzz or green spots on bread, don’t eat it, throw it out. If there is any white powdery dust or dots on cheese, don’t eat it, it’s mold.  Lastly, and this is very important, if there is mold on food, don’t touch it! Throw it Out!” said Cecelia.

“Your report sounds very informative!” “Thanks, Mom”.  
“I don’t think your science teacher, Mr. Fields will want to eat meatballs in tomato sauce, after he sees your mold experiment” said Cecelia’s Mom chuckling.” “Probably not!” said Cecelia smiling.


USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service

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