Food safety education month

During the month of September, take extra time to learn about keeping your food safe.

The summer winds down, school begins and the days get shorter; all signs that we are in the month of September. During this month of cooler temperatures, garden harvest and the fast approaching season of fall, take some extra time to be sure that the food you are serving is safe for you and your family. The month of September focuses on food safety. The Partnership for Food Safety Education promotes food safety practices and encourages education during September.

This year’s focus is on the refrigerator. Michigan State University Extension encourages you to think about your answers to these questions:

  • How clean and food safe is your refrigerator?
  • Do you have a refrigerator thermometer in all of your refrigerators?
  • What is the temperature inside your refrigerator?

Bacteria that can cause illness grow rapidly in the “temperature danger zone.” The danger zone is temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit (F) and 140 degrees F. Keeping a constant home refrigerator temperature below 40 degrees F is one of the most effective ways to reduce cases of listeriosis and other foodborne diseases. Let’s take a look at a couple of the myths the Partnership for Food Safety Education is focusing on this year to help us keep our food safe in our refrigerators.

Myth 1: I know my refrigerator is cold enough – I can feel it when I open it! Anyway, I have a dial to adjust the temperature.

Fact: Unless you have thermometers built into your fingers, you need to use a thermometer to ensure your refrigerator is at or below 40 degrees F. And that dial? Important, but it is not a thermometer.

As many as 43 percent of home refrigerators have been found to be at temperatures above 40 degrees F, putting them in the food safety “danger zone” where harmful bacteria can multiply and make you and your family sick!

Slow the growth of bacteria by using a refrigerator thermometer to tell if your refrigerator is at 40 degrees F or below. And if it isn’t? Use that dial to adjust the temperature so it will be colder. Then, use your refrigerator thermometer to measure again.

Myth 2: Cross-contamination doesn’t happen in the refrigerator – it’s too cold in there for germs to survive!

Fact: Bacteria can survive and some even grow in cool, moist environments like the refrigerator.

In fact, Listeria bacteria can grow at temperatures below 40 degrees F! A recent study showed the refrigerator produce compartment was one of the “germiest” places in the kitchen, containing Salmonella and Listeria.

To reduce the risk of cross-contamination in your refrigerator:

  • Keep fresh fruits and vegetables separate from raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs
  • Clean up food and beverage spills immediately, and
  • Clean your refrigerator regularly with hot water and liquid soap. Don’t forget to clean the refrigerator walls and undersides of shelves!

Myth 3: I left some food out all day, but if I put it in the fridge now, the bacteria will die.

Fact: Refrigerator temperatures can slow the growth of bacteria, but will not stop the growth of bacteria in food.

If food is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, putting it into the refrigerator will only slow bacterial growth, not kill it. Protect your family by following the two-hour rule—refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, cut fresh fruits and vegetables, and all cooked leftovers within two hours of cooking or purchasing. Refrigerate within one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees F.

While refrigeration does slow bacterial growth, most perishables will only keep for a few days in the refrigerator. To keep perishables longer than a few days—like most meat, poultry and seafood—you can freeze them.

Myth 4: I don’t need to clean my refrigerator produce bin because I only put fruit and vegetables in there.

Fact: Naturally occurring bacteria in fresh fruits and vegetables can cause cross-contamination in your refrigerator.

A recent NSF International study found that the refrigerator produce compartment was the number one “germiest” area in consumers’ kitchens! To prevent the buildup of bacteria that can cause food poisoning, it is essential to clean your produce bin and other bins in your refrigerator often with hot water and liquid soap, rinse thoroughly, and dry with a clean cloth towel or allow to air dry outside of the refrigerator.

Foodborne illness is nothing to take chances with, using the facts above; take a closer look at your refrigerator and food safety practices for keeping foods cold. It will help to keep you healthy.

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