Fungi are eukaryotic organisms, meaning that they have a more complex cellular structure, similar to that found in higher life forms. For example their DNA is double-stranded, unlike bacteria (prokaryotes) that have single-stranded DNA.
Fungi can be conveniently split into three groups:
Yeasts – single-celled fungi
Molds – multicellular forms that produce filaments
Mushrooms – filamentous types of fungi that produce fruiting bodies
Yeasts are generally not a food safety problem but are famous for being able to ferment sugars. We take advantage of fermentation to make bread rise, and to produce alcohol in malted beverages, cider, beer and wine.
Various species of molds are useful to make food, however certain species are a significant cause of foodborne illness – first for the good species.
Non-hazardous molds – People use some filamentous species of fungi to make foods. This includes adding flavors and textures. For example, these types of fungi can be used to make soy sauce, cheese and even to make fruit juices clear by breaking down pectin.
Hazardous molds – Certain types of molds produce dangerous and potent toxins. These molds become hazardous when they grow on foods such as corn and peanuts, and then produce toxins that enter and contaminate food. These toxins can be very dangerous, affecting internal organs, the nervous system and even producing cancer and birth defects.
As we know, there are poisonous and non-poisonous varieties of mushroom. Various types of mushrooms are commercially cultivated for food, such as the common button mushroom, as well as shitake and portabella mushrooms.
Also, some people enjoy hunting for edible mushrooms such as morels and truffles. However, they must be very knowledgeable about the types wild mushrooms that can be safely eaten.
RECOMMENDED RESOURCES – visit the sites below for more detailed information:
The Bad Bug Book (US Food and Drug Administration) (detailed information about aflatoxin)
Fungi (Encyclopedia.com) (a nice overview of fungi used in food)