Nutrition Unscrambled

Refrigerator Food Safety

By Marcia Greenblum, MS, RD
August 10th, 2011

Hi Readers – here is a post from one of our Registered Dietitan Advisors, Mary Lee Chin, on refrigerator food safety.

~ Marcia

It’s enough to make you lose your appetite. Americans are getting fed up and throwing in their napkins. From pathogens to product recalls, food safety is among the top of Americans food concerns. Many perceive a lack of control, at the mercy of food producers and manufacturers to safely feed their families.  And while high-profile food recalls alarm the public, it is also important that consumers realize that foodborne illnesses can start in private homes –and at rates three times more frequently  than in commercial operations.  Much of the problem is the result of improper storage, unsafe food handling, lack of cleanliness and poor refrigerator maintenance.

So during these hot summer months, take a look at some simple tips to help maintain refrigerator food safety.

Correct settings: Always have a refrigerator thermometer to check settings –They can be purchased for as little as$15.00.  Improper storage temps among major factors contributing to food spoilage and microbial growth. Studies have shown that a majority of Americans have no idea what their refrigerator temperature is, and many confuse the thermostat with the thermometer. Read your owner’s manual!  A recommended temperature is below 40 degree F. Consumer home refrigeration practices: Results of a Web-based Survey, J. of Food Protection, July 2007.

Maintain safety practices: Do not over-stuff the refrigerator.  Cold air must circulate to help keep food safe. Over purchases can crash your grocery cart, wasting money on extra food that spoils before eaten, and then must be discarded

Cool foods quickly: The key is to cool hot food quickly to prevent bacteria growth. Bacteria find a very welcome environment  to grow in the  of 41ºF -140ºF temperature range. Food should be cooled to 41ºF or lower as quickly as possible. For example place large quantities of hot food in shallow stainless steel containers or in an ice bath to cool quickly, then refrigerate.

Check door seals: Close door and tug gently. There should be some resistance. If it opens easily, something is wrong with seal. Over time door seals can become dry and cracked, allowing condensation to build up, and temperature variances creating condensation, mold and inconsistent temperatures. Look for mold in crevices which is indication of faulty door seals. Don’t stuff refrigerator so much that cannot let door swing shut on own and does not properly close.  If need to replace, look for seal replacement instructions on manufacturer’s website.

Clean the refrigerator: Sounds obvious, but…….Once a week or immediately before going grocery shopping, take inventory of the contents of your refrigerator. Remove outdated foods promptly. More than three out of five Americans say they wait for food to taste, look or smell bad instead of checking the expiration date. The expiration date or “use by” date is the date by which food should be used or frozen to ensure quality and consistency — and it should be followed. Remove all food and store in a cooler while you are cleaning. Wiping up spills as they happen will keep your refrigerator clean, and help it to be odor -free. To rid fridge of offensive odors, add a cup of baking soda to a bowl or plate and place inside refrigerator for 24-hours. Remove and properly dispose of baking soda when done.

 Ice maker or a water dispenser:   Water filters needs to be changed regularly. Replace filter every six months or as recommended by the owner’s manual.

Leftovers: Date leftovers and keep some masking tape and a pen in your kitchen to make it easier. Do not leave leftovers on your kitchen counter for longer than two hours. In hot weather (90°F or above), leftovers should be refrigerated promptly. Seal or cover all containers to avoid absorbing or contributing to refrigerator odors. If you are not going to eat leftovers within 2-3 days, seal in freezer wrap, date and freeze at 0 degrees.

  • Doggie bag diners – Bringing home a doggie bag is a good way to exercise portion and calorie control, but remember to handle safely. You already have the time that the food sat on your plate while you finished dessert, and then the trip home. Remove food from the bag (decreasing the insulation) write date on your take-out container – and remember to eat or discard within three days. American Dietetic Association

Leftovers Keeps Up To
Cooked fresh vegetables 3-4 days
Cooked pasta 3-5 days
Cooked rice 1 week
Deli counter meats 5 days
Meat:    Ham, cooked and sliced    Hot dogs, opened    Lunch meats, prepackaged, opened    Cooked beef, pork, poultry, fish and meat casseroles    Cooked patties and nuggets, gravy and broth 3-4 days 1 week 3-5 days 3-4 days 1-2 days
Seafood, cooked 2 days
Soups and stews 3-4 days
Stuffing 1-2 days

 Refrigerator Door: Refrigerator doors are consistently warmer than other areas of the fridge due to frequent opening of the refrigerator door. Don’t keep milk cartons on the door. According to American Egg Board, fresh eggs can be stored in their cartons at a constant temperature of 40 degrees F for 4-5 weeks beyond carton’s packing date. Many built-in egg trays are on the door where most likely warmer temperatures are. Newer refrigerator models have the egg tray inside the refrigerator, where it is colder more consistently. Keep eggs in their carton to guard against breakage and odor absorption and helps to prevent moisture loss which lowers egg quality. Fresh eggs, in their shell, will last 3-5 weeks. Hard-boiled eggs can last a week in the refrigerator (in or out of the shell)

 Dairy Products American Dietetic Association

Discard all kinds of milk (whole, 2 percent, skim, etc.) after the container has been opened one week of opening, no matter what the “sell-by” date is. Use yogurt within 7-10 days after buying it. Hard cheese, like cheddar, Gouda, Edam, and Swiss, can last for 3 to 4 weeks tightly wrapped in the refrigerator after opening.

The softer the cheese, the shorter the shelf life

  • Cream cheese can last for 2 weeks
  • Cottage cheese can last for 10 to 30 days
  • Ricotta cheese can last for 5 days

Vegetable bin Don’t purchase produce with mold, bruises or cuts –bacteria can thrive in those places and buy only the amount that you will use within a week. Vegetable bins are the places most likely to be contaminated as raw fruits and vegetables can become contaminated along the farm-to-table continuum. Produce used for salads – lettuce and spinach, for example – grow low to the ground, where they are likely to come in contact with contaminated fertilizers. For best safety, place washed produce into clean storage containers, not back into the original ones. Refrigerate fresh produce within two hours of peeling or cutting. Toss leftover cut produce that is left at room temperature for more than two hours and discard cooked vegetables after 3 days .

Meats and fruits in separate compartments: Keep raw meats and ready-to eat foods separate; juices from raw meats or germs can cause cross-contamination to cooked or ready-to-eat foods (such lettuces or fruit). Store or thaw raw meats, poultry and seafood on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so juices don’t drip onto other foods. When thawing meat, place on paper towel on top of a dish to catch dripping meat juices. Throw away ground meats, sausage and organ meats after 2 days . Freeze meats in freezer-safe wrap at 0°. Cooked meats should be eaten or frozen within 3 days.

 Resources The American Dietetic Association

One Response to “Refrigerator Food Safety”

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Nutrition Unscrambled  is written by nutrition experts with the Egg Nutrition Center, which is funded by the American Egg Board. It is monitored and maintained by the public relations agency of record. The mission of the Egg Nutrition Center is to be a credible source of nutrition and health science information and the acknowledged leader in research and education related to eggs. For more information, click here.

About the Bloggers

Mitch Kanter, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Egg Nutrition Center. For more information about
Mitch, click here.
Marcia Greenblum, MS, RD is the Senior Director, Nutrition Education at the Egg Nutrition Center. For more information about Marcia, click here.
Anna Shlachter, MS, RD, LDN is the Program Manager, Nutrition Research and Communications at the Egg Nutrition Center. For more information about Anna, click here.

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All information provided within this blog is for informational and educational purposes only and it is not to be construed as medical advice or instruction. Please consult your physician or a qualified health professional on any matters regarding your health or before making changes to your diet or health behaviors.