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Food Safety Fears? Look in Your Fridge

With all the recent news of foodborne illness from bacterial contamination of purchased foods, it's easy to think of those as the primary source of our risk. But experts say that it is far more common to get a foodborne illness (food poisoning) from food that has become contaminated in our homes. A common culprit is a refrigerator that is not clean or cold enough. Fortunately, research has identified a few simple steps for a refrigerator makeover that can make you safer.

First, make sure that your refrigerator and freezer are keeping your food at safe temperatures. In a study that included over 2,000 people, temperatures in about a third of participants' refrigerators were outside the safe range. In another survey of 200 homes, 80 percent of refrigerator temperatures on the door rose above the safe range for more than two hours a day.

The temperature inside your refrigerator should be 40 degree or below, and your freezer 0degree or below. Temperatures beyond this allow harmful bacteria to multiply. In order to monitor the refrigerator temperature, food safety experts recommend a refrigerator/freezer thermometer. You can get these thermometers for five to ten dollars at hardware and discount department stores.

Place the thermometer in the center of the middle shelf for the most accurate reading. Refrigerator temperatures fluctuate, so check the temperature regularly and adjust as needed.

If you find that your refrigerator tends to stray from the safe range, a faulty door seal is one of the most likely reasons. Close the door and then tug on it gently. There should be some resistance as you open it. Check for mold in the crevices of the seal. If door seals dry out and crack that allows condensation to build, which is a perfect breeding ground for mold. If a door seal is leaky, you can have the seal replaced by a professional or do it yourself.

Studies consistently find that refrigerator doors are warmer than other areas of the fridge. Therefore, experts advise against the common practice of storing milk and eggs on the door. Instead, store them inside the refrigerator where the temperature is colder. Use storage on the door for condiments, which are not as vulnerable to contaminants.

Make sure that uncooked meats are wrapped tightly and stored in a place where the juices cannot drip onto raw vegetables. Cover leftovers, and develop a system to date them as you put them in the refrigerator so you'll know how long they are safe to eat.

The final step in your food safety refrigerator makeover is to give it a thorough cleaning, and make a habit of doing so regularly. A thorough cleaning involves emptying out the fridge, throwing out food that is past the safe date, and washing and drying the bins. Pay special attention to the produce bin, since testing finds it the most likely spot to harbor health-threatening bacteria.

-By Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research
Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research
www.aicr.org
 
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