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Sunday, 29 March 2015

Home Food Safety - How healthy is your refrigerator?

Food Safety tips to keep food safe in the refrigerator at home
by Jim Chan Certified Public Health Inspector (Canada)

Let's talk about the importance of food safety and what can be done to reduce the risk of food poisoning. 

Many people do not recognize the serious nature of food poisoning and some people confuse food poisoning with a common flu or a 'stomach flu'. Also, many people assume restaurant food & meals are the cause of food poisoning, but according to a Toronto Board of Health report, 1 in 6 of all food poisoning cases are caused by food prepared at home.




Photo - Eat Smart poster




The refrigerator is one of the most important pieces of equipment in your kitchen for keeping foods safe for your family. If the refrigerator is not working properly, it can increase the risk of food poisoning, food spoilage as well as safety hazard such as electrical fire. Here are some refrigerator common problems.

Your refrigerator is probably filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, meat, cheese, milk and eggs and your food choices may get a PASS for healthy eating, but do you think your fridge can get a PASS on Food Safety?



What is growing in your refrigerator?
Microorganisms such as bacteria can grow rapidly in the “Danger Zone” temperature ranging between 4°C /40°F and 60°C/140°F, some bacteria can double in number in as little as 20 minutes.

There are two different types of bacteria that can affect the wholesomeness of the food:
  1. Pathogenic bacteria - they are harmful and can cause foodbourne illness (E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria). Pathogenic bacteria can grow rapidly in the “Danger Zone”, but they do not generally cause spoilage and affect the taste, smell, or appearance of a food. This is one reason that this can be a crucial food safety risk as one cannot tell that pathogenic bacteria are present.
  2. Spoilage bacteria – In general, they affect the quality of food that has been stored in the refrigerator for too long and developing unpleasant odors, tastes, and textures, but they most likely do not cause foodbourne illness.
Refrigeration slows bacterial growth, a refrigerator set at 4°C/40°F or below will protect 
most foods, however, some bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes thrive at cold temperatures, and if food is contaminated with Listeria, they will multiply in the refrigerator over time and can cause foodbourne illness. One solution is to store foods such as processed deli meats and cold cuts in the fridge for up to a week is about the maximum. If not going to eat the meat within a few days, freeze it as Listeria cannot grow at freezing temperatures.


Refrigerator and Food Safety Tips:

  1. Refrigeration compartment - Keep temperature at 4°C /40° F, or colder. Bacteria
    multiply rapidly at temperatures above 4°C/ 40°F, so keep cold food cold by chilling food properly is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. Always keep a fridge thermometer inside the refrigerator at all times to keep tabs on the temperature.
  2. Freezer compartment - Keep temperature at -18°C (0°F) to keep food items frozen solid. Fresh meat, poultry or fish should be freeze immediately if not use within a few days, also put the date on packages to keep track of storage period. (Note: In the summer months when it is hot and humid in the kitchen, the refrigerator and
    freezer temperature can get warmer. Use the thermometer in the fridge and freezer to check that they stay cold enough.)
  3. Food storage – Always keep raw food below ready-to-eat food to prevent cross-contamination Raw meat, poultry, and seafood should be kept in sealed containers or wrapped securely to prevent raw juices from contaminating other foods as raw meat juices often contain pathogenic bacteria. 
    storage environment for fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, and cheese and to provide separation of food to prevent cross-contamination. (Note: Do not pack the refrigerator completely full as cool air must circulate to keep food properly chilled and safe). Some refrigerators have special features such as door bins, crisper, and meat/cheese drawers which help to make storage of foods more convenient.
  4. Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator – When thawing or defrosting food in the refrigerator, always keep food in its original packaging and on a plate or in a container (Tip: Plastic food containers such as those used for salad or baked goods are great for 
    storing raw meat in freezer or refrigerator), place on the bottom shelf and allow 10 hours per kilogram to defrost. (Note: Do not defrost food at room temperature, bacteria can grow rapidly on food surface before the inside defrosts and increases the risk of foodbourne illness.) 
  5. Put hot food in the refrigerator – Hot or warm food in small containers can be placed
    directly in the refrigerator or it can be rapidly chilled in an ice or cold water bath before refrigerating. (Note: Putting piping hot food in the refrigerator can increase the temperature to the range within the Danger Zone. A large pot of hot food like soup or stew should be put in shallow containers before being refrigerated. Large cut of meat or whole poultry should be cut and divided into smaller pieces, wrapped or placed in a containers before refrigerating.)
  6. Avoid storing food in the refrigerator doorDo not store perishable foods in the door as the temperature in the door fluctuate more than the temperature in the cabinet when the door is open. Keep the door closed as much as possible and only store non-perishable food such as juice, soda, water in the door shelves or bins.
  7. Keep refrigerator clean - Keeping the refrigerator clean is an important step of food safety. Wipe up spills immediately and clean surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water; then rinse with a sanitizer such as a mixture of bleach and water. (Note: Once a week, check the food in the refrigerator and throw out old perishable foods that should no longer be eaten. Refer to the cold storage chart (Ontario Ministry of Health) for storage of meat, poultry, and egg products in the refrigerator.
During a power outage

With no power, a full upright or chest freezer will keep food frozen for about 2 days while a half-full freezer will keep food frozen for 1 day. The refrigerator will keep food cool for 4 to 6 hours providing the door is kept close. The following check list can help keep food safe:
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors close as much as possible.
  • If the power will be out for a long time, move the food from the refrigerator to the freezer to prolong storage time.
  • Purchase ice if possible and use ice to help keep the refrigerator and freezer cold.
  • If frozen food has thawed, cook it when power has restored. Sometimes it can be re-frozen but check to ensure it still contains ice crystals or feels cold. It is important to check and discard any thawed food that has risen to above 4°C (40°F) for over 2 hours, especially food with an off colour or odor. The best food safety precaution
When in doubt, throw it out

Be Your Own Health Inspector 

Can you spot food safety problems in this refrigerator?


More on Food Safety at Home
See what Dr. Justin Beaver has to say

56 comments:

  1. Jim... this is a really good guideline. After all...food safety begins in the home and good food safety practices 'in the home' will greatly contribute to the same in the workplace.
    Parents teach your kids well as one day it may save a life...possibly theirs or yours!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Steve. I think if each person would check the refrigerator at home & adjust the temperature to 4C/ 40F or below, it should cut down on food spoilage as well as the risk of food poisoning.

      Delete
  2. Thank you for the informative article. I'm not sure how our workplace kitchen received a green PASS when (quite by accident) in the large fridge, I saw sliced cheddar cheese covered in green/white mold stored loosely in a Ziploc baggie (it was served in grilled cheese sandwiches the day before) as well as the small fridge where the coffee cream/milk is kept, keeps consistently running well into the red/spoilage zone, all day, every day. As Toronto Health didn't see those issues, I suppose the kitchen staff doesn't either. I for one, won't eat there regardless of a PASS.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Michelle. If the office kitchen is a private cafeteria and not open to the general public, it may only get 1 inspection per year. Best is to also mention to the health & safety committee (if there is one), or send a complaint to http://www.toronto.ca/health/dinesafe/ and you do not have to give your name or contact info. Inspector will investigate & update with an inspection.

      Delete
  3. Food safety at home should also include the basic 4-steps ''Clean-Separate-Cook-Chill'' as every step is important in reducing food poisoning risk. These 4 steps are being addressed in other articles in the posts. This is one on temperature control http://healthinspectorsnotebook.blogspot.com/2015/04/food-safety-at-home-how-to-avoid-danger.html

    ReplyDelete
  4. I work in a restaurant and often have problem with the walk-in refrigeration unit, never cold enough but the boss won't let us toss spoiled food out. I'm afraid to report him to health authority because I don't want to loose my job.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment. Temperature control is the most important step in a food establishment to reduce risk of food poisoning. The operator should know that when an incident of food poisoning occurred, he/she is responsible and may even be resulted in legal action by health dept. as well as law suite from the customers.I strongly suggest that your discuss this issue with the operator to have the refrigerator fixed (it could even be a minor mechanical problem?)

      Delete
  5. Are you In search of a Refrigerator for your kitchen? If you are considering purchasing a new refrigerator, then there are certain things that you are supposed to remember. Not every refrigerator is made the same and therefore, it is essential for you to make the correct choice.
    For food safety I like to suggest you all to use whirlpool Refrigerators. Get more details about best refrigerators,latest refrigerators, french door refrigerator and double door refrigerator log on http://goo.gl/MKEPWp




    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good information and thanks for sharing the link: http://www.whirlpoolindia.com/refrigerators

      Delete
  6. Very nice and helpful information has been given in this article. I like the way you explain the things. Keep posting.Thanks for sharing.
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    1. Thank you so much Selena (http://www.freecoupondeals.in/stores/cromaretail-com/).

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  8. I'm a chef in a hotel (New York City) and you should see the condition of the ice machines, the one we get ice from for the bar is so bad that we have to scoop off dead bugs, mold and 'unidentified' objects floating in the water as the ice machine is never cold enough to keep ice cubes frozen. The manager told us that nothing can grow on ice to make people sick. Can't wait till the health inspector's next visit....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment. I strongly suggest that you stop handling ice in the restaurant as you have indicated. As a food handler, do not use the ice from this machine, turn it off and tell the manager that this machine needs repair. Please check out this article on proper handling of ice in food premises http://www.easyice.com/ice-safety-steps-restaurants-bars-hotels/

      Delete
    2. The link of the ice safety article is not working.

      Delete
  9. This is a good article on safe ice handling in food establishments: 4 ice safety tips to keep your restaurant ice clean & safe easyice.com http://www.easyice.com/ice-safety-steps-restaurants-bars-hotels/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Emilee FollettYesterday 1:48 PM+1

      Reply

      Great link. Thanks! We'll share this up on the blog. :) 

      Delete
  10. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post, It is awesome.
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    ReplyDelete
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    1. Thank you so much Rajesh. I just viewed your website, very nice and the food items look great.

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  11. 1GoldRunner5:55 PM+1

    This fridge better not me in a first world country. This is one of the most disturbing images I have ever seen. 

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This fridge was found in an under ground food business in Toronto, the worse one I've ever investigated in my career as a health inspector.

      Delete
  12. Hi Jim, there is some excellent information here! It seems people are often neglectful of keeping foods out of the "danger zone." I do want to point out, it might be confusing to some readers the way your "Refrigeration and Food Safety Tips" are laid out. If someone was skimming the main points of the article, they might see "6. Store food in the refrigerator door" without reading the part where you say to specifically NOT do this. This might cause some confusion, since one might think it was OK to store foods in the refrigerator door after reading that. Other than that, fantastic article!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for the feedback, good suggestion. I agreed that the title of #6 is confusing & this will be changed soon, I may add a photo to #6 too. Again thanks for visiting my Blog site.

      Delete
  13. Thank you! You are post is very interesting, i like you are article about refrigerator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for the nice comment. Many people can reduce unnecessary food waste just by knowing the right temperature to keep their food as well as some basic food safety steps to ensure their food is safe.

      Delete
  14. Not all restaurant owners pay attention to the temperatures of their refrigerators and freezers in their restaurants, especially the walk-in cooler where they store meat, fish and other food. Once a health inspector checked the restaurant I worked in and threw away all the food because she said the cooler was too warm, the owner was upset and argued with the inspector.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with me. Public health inspector can seize & remove any food that might have exposed to a hazardous condition (such at temp. abuse or cross-contamination). Most owners are reasonable as they know of the food safety risk, but a few love to fight about any infractions identified by inspector.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for sharing your experience with me. Public health inspector can seize & remove any food that might have exposed to a hazardous condition (such at temp. abuse or cross-contamination). Most owners are reasonable as they know of the food safety risk, but a few love to fight about any infractions identified by inspector.

      Delete
  15. Replies
    1. Thank you so much Mouri for the comment, and for sharing your links on safety topics.

      Delete
  16. Great post! Thanks for sharing.I like using ziplock bags for freezing things. As long as you squeeze out most of the air, they work very well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Kirk, ziplock bags are great for keeping food fresh, as well, I use them for freezing leftover sauces too, they take up less space in the freezer.

      Delete
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  27. Wonderful post and was very good to read and gain experience. Refrigerator cooling issue is a common problem. It might be due to leakage of gas. Many times people use sharp things to break the ice in the freezer and this also releases the gas. Your post shows how to clear the issue and thanks again for that. We are Whirlpool service centers in Chennai and blogs like these are very useful for our service team.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback and sharing of your information on the web page.

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  28. Hi Jim Chan. Very good blog. It is so much helpful because to study online and upgrade ourselves is the best way to keep gaining knowledge. Our Godrej service centers in Chennai has many technicians who go online to clear many doubts regarding refrigerator service. Very useful. Keep writing more.

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  29. Nice post and posts like these are useful for people who are into home appliance service. Cooling issues either will be due to less gas or due to compressor fault. Experience refrigerator service person will know that and will clear the issue immediately. Good post and thanks

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