Avoid Food Poisoning: Keep Your Refrigerator Safe
What's lurking in your fridge?
Does evil lurk behind the door of your refrigerator? The last time you
cleaned out your fridge, did you find a science experiment growing on last
According to the experts, the home kitchen is a Petri dish for food-borne
illness. In fact, what we often mistake for an upset stomach or the flu is
often a mild form of food poisoning.
According to the February 2004 issue of the Journal of the American
Dietetic Association, "food-borne diseases are estimated to cause
approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths
in the United States each year."
These bacteria, viruses, and parasites pose health risks for all of us, but
especially for pregnant and lactating women, young children, the elderly, and
anyone with an immune-deficiency disease.
The good news is that up to 25% of the outbreaks can be prevented with safer
practices in the home.
So how do you make sure the food in your refrigerator is safe? Let's start
with the basics:
- Clean out the fridge every week or two, using a mild solution of bleach and
- Post thermometers to ensure that the temperature stays below 40 degrees
Fahrenheit in the refrigerator and 0 degrees Fahrenheit in the freezer.
- Wipe up any spills in your refrigerator immediately, to prevent
- Use all food by its expiration or "use-by" date.
- Food that is labeled with a "sell-by" date should be used within
five days of that date.
It's also important to examine food for any signs of deterioration before
you prepare it. When food starts to deteriorate, it often looks and/or smells
But unfortunately, some foods can appear perfectly good even when they are
full of dangerous organisms. So when in doubt, throw it out!
Live by this motto, read the dates stamped on containers, and use all your
senses -- including common sense -- to determine if food is safe to eat.
Safety starts at the grocery store. Begin shopping in the center of the
market, proceed to the periphery, and select frozen food last. Don't buy dented
or leaking cans or jars, or fresh food that looks or smells old. Make sure eggs
are free of any cracks. Check the dates on all foods, including cans and
Once you're home, immediately store perishables and frozen foods. Keep your
refrigerator and freezer filled, but with a little room to spare to allow for
air circulation. Overstuffed refrigerators and freezers can dip below safe
temperatures, thus promoting bacterial growth.
The Danger Zone
Foods that thaw or sit out at room temperature are officially in the danger
zone (40-140 degrees Fahrenheit), where bacteria multiply rapidly. Thaw frozen
foods in the refrigerator -- on the bottom shelf so they won't drip onto foods.
And remember that foods served buffet-style should not sit out any longer than
Carefully wrap and date your leftovers, and use them up within two days.
Remove as much air as possible from storage bags to keep foods fresh longer.
You might consider getting a vacuum sealer, a handy gadget that shrink-wraps
food for maximum storage.
For quick cooling, divide large pots of hot food into smaller containers
before you refrigerate or freeze them.
If you follow these simple precautions, you'll find it's easy to keep your
refrigerator safe and keep yourself free of food-borne illnesses. Chill out
safely to stay healthy!