While mold is the most obvious indication that mozzarella cheese is old, there are other recognizable indications that the cheese is no longer good to eat. Discard the cheese if you aren't sure. For healthy people, foodborne illness may be limited to unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms. However, some types of bacteria are dangerous, especially for pregnant women, infants, the elderly and people with weak immune systems. Tightly packaged, properly refrigerated, mozzarella cheese lasts as long as six months, but once opened, storage time drops to about one month.
Check the date on the package. The use-by date is not an indication of safety and properly stored mozzarella often keeps beyond the date. However, it tells you how long the cheese is expected to maintain optimum quality and freshness.
Smell the mozzarella and discard the cheese if it smells bad. Although many cheeses have a strong odor, mozzarella has a light, mild aroma. If mozzarella has an off smell, or if it smells like sour milk, it's a sign that the cheese has gone bad.
Taste the cheese, then discard it if it tastes bad. Tasting a tiny amount of old mozzarella will be unpleasant, but it isn't likely to make you sick. If mozzarella cheese tastes fine, it is safe to eat.
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Wrap mozzarella cheese tightly when storing it in the refrigerator because the cheese absorbs flavors and odors from other foods. Store the cheese away from meat to prevent possible contamination.
Large chunks of mozzarella cheese keep longer than small pieces or slices, which generally begin to lose quality after a month or less.
Don't attempt to trim the mold from mozzarella cheese. Mold growing on hard, low-moisture cheeses, such as cheddar, Parmesan and Swiss, can be safely trimmed. However, food safety specialists at Clemson University Extension warn that bacteria may permeate beneath the surface of mozzarella and other semi-soft, higher-moisture cheeses.
Don't sniff moldy cheese. You may inhale the spores.
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Handling of Cheese for Safety and Quality
- The Kitchn: How Old Is Too Old?
- The Cheesemonger's Top Ten Rules for Ultimate Cheese Sanity
- Oregon State University Extension: Storing Food for Safety and Quality
- Mayo Clinic: If a Piece of Cheese Has Mold on It, Should I Throw the Cheese Away?
M.H. Dyer began her writing career as a staff writer at a community newspaper and is now a full-time commercial writer. She writes about a variety of topics, with a focus on sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free gardening. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and Master Naturalist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing.