September is National Food Safety Education Month and this year, the Partnership for Food Safety Education, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Food and Drug Administration are trying to debunk some common myths about keeping food safe in the refrigerator.
Use a Thermometer
Feeling the cold air when you open the refrigerator door isn’t enough to know that your food is cold enough. It should be at or below 40 degrees F to slow bacterial growth, but you can’t know it’s cold enough unless you use a thermometer. That dial you use to adjust the temperature is important, but it’s not a thermometer.
As many as 43 percent of home refrigerators have been found to be at temperatures above 40 degrees F, putting them in the food safety “danger zone” where harmful bacteria can multiply. In her studies, Christine Bruhn, retired director of the Center for Consumer Research at the University of California, has seen around 13 percent of consumers’ refrigerators with temperatures above 45 degrees F.
If you measure the temperature and it’s above 40 degrees F, use the dial to adjust the temperature so it will be colder. Use your refrigerator thermometer to measure again later.
Refrigerate Food After Two Hours
Refrigerator temperatures can slow the growth of bacteria, but won’t stop it completely. This is why you should refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, cut fresh fruits and vegetables, and all cooked leftovers within two hours of cooking or purchasing and within one hour if it’s a really hot day.
This is also why you can only keep perishables for a few days in the fridge.
Keep Your Fridge Clean
Bacteria can survive and some even grow in cool, moist environments like the refrigerator. Listeria can grow at temperatures below 40 degrees F.
To reduce the risk of cross-contamination, clean up any spills immediately, regularly clean your fridge with hot water and soap, and keep fresh fruits and vegetables separate from raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.
And don’t think you can skip cleaning the produce bin because you only keep fruit and vegetables in there. A recent NSF International study found that the refrigerator produce compartment was the “germiest” area in consumers’ kitchens.
After washing bins with hot water and liquid soap, rinse them thoroughly, and dry with a clean cloth towel or allow to air-dry outside of the refrigerator.
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