Spring has long been the time of year for annual spring cleaning projects around the home. When it comes to safe food handling, however, everything that comes in contact with food must be kept clean all year long — including the refrigerator.
You probably keep your refrigerator at home clean, but the office refrigerator may be a problem because it’s typically a shared responsibility. Here are some tips that may help.
Keep it at a safe temperature — 40 °F or lower
Refrigeration slows bacterial growth. Bacteria exist everywhere in nature. They are in the soil, air, water, and the foods we eat. When they have nutrients (food), moisture, and favorable temperatures, they grow rapidly, increasing in numbers to the point where some types of bacteria can cause illness.
Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 and 140 °F, the “Danger Zone,” some doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. A refrigerator set at 40 °F or below will protect most foods.
Appliance thermometers for refrigerators are specifically designed to provide accuracy at cold temperatures and can be purchased at the local hardware store.
Keep it clean
If your office doesn’t already have a schedule for cleaning, why not make it a habit to throw out perishable foods left in the refrigerator at least once a week? A general rule of thumb for refrigerator storage for cooked leftovers is 4 days.
Wipe up spills immediately before they turn into a major cleaning job. Clean surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water; then rinse.
Refer to the Storage Times for the Refrigerator and Freezer chart for storage guidelines of perishable products in the refrigerator. Print a copy and post on the refrigerator door as a reminder for all who use it.
To keep the refrigerator smelling fresh and help eliminate odors, place an opened box of baking soda on a shelf. Avoid using solvent cleaning agents, abrasives, and all cleansers that may impart a chemical taste to food or ice cubes, or cause damage to the interior finish of the refrigerator. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Share the responsibility
Do you feel like you are the only one concerned about the cleanliness of the refrigerator? Make it a food safety issue! Not everyone may realize the importance of keeping all food contact surfaces, like the refrigerator, clean. Because bacteria are everywhere, cleanliness is a major factor in preventing foodborne illness.
Post this blog on the office refrigerator. Maybe your coworkers will get the hint.
This post, by Diane Van, manager, USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, was first published on April 25, 2011 on www.FoodSafety.gov