The kitchen fridge is considered the safest place to put your food.
However, a study revealed that refrigerator salad drawers can contain up to 750 times the level of bacteria that is considered safe, with potential killers such as E.Coli 0157, salmonella and listeria found in our fridges at much higher rates than previously suspected.
According to the Food Standards Agency, every year in the UK, approx. 1 million people suffer a food-borne illness. With thousands of these needing to have hospital treatment. With the vast majority of food poisoning occurring because of under-cooking or cross contamination of food says
Therefore, what are the dangers hiding in your fridge, and how can you protect yourself.
Many people wrongly believe that chilling food kills off bacteria. All chilling does is slow down the rate of the multiplication of the bacteria, so that food which may have lasted only a few hours at room temperature can last a few days. Some bacteria aren’t slowed down in the fridge at all and thus are still very much a potential source of food poisoning.
Listeria bacteria, commonly found in foods such as soft cheese, cold meats, pates and smoked fish, can grow quite well at a temperature range of -1C up to 4C.
Listeria poisoning causes flu-like symptoms and, sometimes even, septicaemia or meningitis.
And most people do not keep their fridges at a cold enough temperature. The recommendations are 5C or less, but the average domestic fridge is set to 6C or above, as people are simply not aware of how cold they should be. Ideally, everybody should use a fridge thermometer and aim for a constant 4 degrees.
Don’t leave the fridge door open for too long, and never put hot food in the fridge, as this will also increase the internal temperature back up.
Our parents usually stored opened jars or jams, or ketchups, in cupboards, and because of the high content of preservatives in these items, that was perfectly safe.
However, nowadays, food manufacturers are cutting back on preservatives in line with consumer demand and Government guidelines and these products are more likely to need to go into the fridge after they have been opened.
A basic rule of fridge hygiene is, if you have a full fridge, turn down its thermostat to compensate. And always ensure you give your fridge a regular clean. As fridges need cleaning at least once a week with hot water and disinfectant and the raw meat section cleaned out every few days.
Campylobacter is one of the main causes of food poisoning in the UK
An example of this would be raw chicken, which is contaminated with the potentially fatal campylobacter bacteria, being placed on a fridge shelf above some salad.
What can happen is that the meat drips on the salad and whilst the chicken is later cooked thoroughly, which kills off the bacteria, the campylobacter-contaminated salad is eaten raw.
Campylobacter is one of the main causes of food poisoning in the UK, accounting for as much as 30% of all cases. Symptoms include abdominal cramps, fever and diarrhoea.
Even wrapped chicken may not be free of contamination either — so keep it in a separate box.
The golden rule of fridge hygiene is that raw meat must always be stored at the bottom of the fridge.
And always keep food that is to be eaten raw separate from processed, home-cooked or raw meat. Fish is generally clean from bacteria, but it does spoil quickly.
You should also be careful to store some cheeses separately, and not in the same box as foods such as pate.
Vegetables also spread bacterial infection and whilst E.Coli contamination in meat has reduced recently, the overall rates of food poisoning from E.Coli have remained at roughly the same level. The bacteria could therefore cross contaminate from your vegetables to other foods in the fridge. Always wash soil from vegetables in a bowl of still water before placing in a separate storage compartment in the fridge.
Bacillus cereus, a bacteria found in plants grown close to the ground such as rice, cereals and spices, accounts for around 2-5% of all cases of food poisoning in the UK and can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. It stays dormant during the cooking process, but once it begins to cool it starts to produce toxic spores. Other potential breeding grounds for the bacteria include old or damp cereals and spices.
Chilling will slow down the growth of bacillus cereus — so store cooked rice in the fridge as soon as it has cooled. Uneaten rice should be thrown out after 3 days when in the fridge.<