Shining a light on the most common hygiene risks lurking in your fridge
A fridge is the foundation of any kitchen.
Whether you’re preparing a family feast or a midnight snack, the fridge will likely be your first port of call. It shouldn’t be too surprising, then, that the fridge is central to your kitchen hygiene and safety. Take care of your fridge – and what’s in it – and you’ll greatly reduce your risk of picking up food-related bugs.
These simple tips will help ensure your food stays fresh and your kitchen stays clean.
How cold is your fridge?
If you’re reading this in the UK, there’s a 50/50 chance that you don’t know, according to a survey by food waste charity WRAP. The same survey also found that the average fridge runs at 7°C – which is outside the recommended temperature range of 0-5°C. Keeping food at this temperature effectively slows the growth of bacteria that spoil food, which helps keep ingredients fresher for longer.
There are a few things you can do to help your fridge stay cool. Make sure the light bulb in your fridge is a low-energy LED bulb if you can, and make sure it’s covered by the shade or light cover provided by the manufacturer if you still have it. You should also avoid putting hot or warm food in the fridge, and check its seals are clean and undamaged regularly.
You can also ensure you don’t overfill your fridge, which will help it regulate its temperature properly. Even new, modern fridges will struggle to keep cool if they’re too full, as they won’t be able to circulate cool air properly.
This is particularly important to note in the current economic climate, when many people see bulk buying as a way to keep costs down. While that may sound like it makes sense from an economic perspective, it can be a false economy, as it can increase the amount of food that goes to waste.
Regularly cleaning out your fridge will help avoid this problem. You can throw away any scraps of food, half-empty jars, and so on, that tend to get shoved to the back of the fridge or left at the bottom of its drawers and forgotten about. These bits and pieces will add up over time – so don’t put it off, get your fridge cleaned out when you can!
Chuck chicken at the bottom
The amount of food in your fridge isn’t the only thing you need to worry about when storing food. Where you put it also matters a great deal.
You probably know that heat rises, so the bottom of a fridge is naturally the coldest part. This means you should store highly perishable foods – particularly raw meat, poultry, and fish – in the bottom of a fridge. A good rule of thumb is – the higher the cooking temperature, the lower it should be in the fridge.
There’s another very important reason to put raw meat at the bottom of the fridge – leaks. If it’s stored on the top shelf, juices from the meat can leak out of its packaging and drip onto the shelves below, posing a serious contamination hazard.
Storing cooked and raw food in the fridge is another serious contamination risk. The bacteria from raw food – again, especially meat – can easily transfer onto cooked food, where it will spread rapidly. While it can be killed by fully cooking the food through again, how many of us can say we do anything more than reheat leftovers? Often, just reheating pre-cooked food isn’t enough to kill bacteria, so this is something to be aware of.
To save space, wrap any opened raw food in cling film and store it in the bottom of your fridge. When you wrap food, you isolate it from the rest of your fridge. This achieves a number of things – it helps prevent bacteria from getting in or out of the wrapping. It also locks out most oxygen, so it preserves raw food and makes it last longer. This also means any strong odours are contained, so you don’t have to worry about those leftover curries stinking out the rest of your fridge.
Wrap when defrosting
Cling film isn’t just good for wrapping raw and cooked food, it’s also vital for defrosting food too.
In today’s hectic world, it’s tempting to leave frozen food on the kitchen side to defrost it quickly. But this is a real hygiene no-no! When food is frozen, it doesn’t actually kill most bacteria that live on it – they’re effectively put into a dormant state. If that food defrosts too quickly, it will ‘wake up’ those bacteria and encourage them to multiply.
Instead, cover your frozen food tightly with cling film and place it in the bottom of your fridge. Leave it to thaw overnight. This will enable it to defrost more slowly, while also preventing dripping juices and contaminated water from touching the rest of your food.
These simple tips will ensure you can stay safe and healthy in the kitchen – and it’s all thanks to your fridge.