IFIC: Clean Refrigerators Weekly to Avoid Food Illnesses

According to several experts addressing home-based food safety issues in "Consumers' Refrigerators: A Danger Zone" at the Institute of Food Technologists' Annual Meeting and Food Expo in New Orleans last week, research shows that only 20 percent of consumers use thermometers, and a mere 30 percent are aware that they should have them in their refrigerators.

"You don't have to go to a restaurant or to a party to get sick," said Fur-Chin Chen, Ph.D., a microbiologist at the University of Tennessee. He found a variety of pathogens in a quarter of the refrigerators he inspected during a recent study. Vegetable bins were the most contaminated.

"There is a disconnect between food safety practices and people's confidence in preparing foods safely. It's very hard to change behaviors," said Danielle Schor, R.D., and a senior vice president of the food safety division of the International Food Information Council (IFIC), a nonprofit organization that addresses consumer education.

IFIC has taken up issue of safe-refrigeration cause with a customized campaign. The campaign's main message to consumers is to purchase thermometers, keep refrigerator temperatures at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and monitor several times a day.

Aside from throwing out ready-to-eat foods by package storage dates, refrigerators need a weekly cleaning, a practice that consumers avoid. One study shows that approximately 50 percent of consumers clean their refrigerators once a month. But because consumers fail to clean thoroughly, scientists say that figure is likely exaggerated.

The best regime is to clean your refrigerator (which shouldn’t be more than 10 years old) inside and out with dish soap once a week. Allow the shelves and drawers to air dry, said Sandria Godwin, Ph.D., R.D., with Tennessee State University's Family and Consumer Sciences.

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