Cold winds are blowing and the winter of 2008 is already here. In Canada, winter means eating and celebrating the season. We have Christmas parties and winter wine festivals, light festivals and many others. And when extreme cold and snow blows, for lots of us here, it also means hibernating. As we tend to go out lesser and lesser, we end up stocking our freezers and refrigerators with all varieties of foods – canned, frozen, ready-to-eat meals and lots more. That is why we`ll discuss about refrigerator hygiene and food safety in homes and work places.
We all know that foods are stored in refrigerators or freezers to prevent spoilage, but what if the refrigerator itself is not clean? Refrigeration slows microbial growth. Micro-organisms are omnipresent. They are in the soil, air, water, and the foods we eat. In presence of nutrients (food), moisture, and favourable temperatures, micro-organisms grow rapidly, increasing in numbers to the point where some types of bacteria can cause illness. If your refrigerator is not clean, it may become a breeding ground for such bacteria.
Micro-organisms that can grow at cold temperatures are called psychrophiles. Psychrophilic microbes can tolerate, survive and thrive at low to extremely low temperatures. This explains why food products still go bad in refrigerators. The microbes that are found in glaciers, in the Arctics and the Antarctics are pyschrophiles and so are the ones in your freezer. Another group called psychotrophs, is capable of growth at room temperature as well as low temperatures. This means that they can survive at temperatures ranging from 0°C to 25°C.
So how can bacteria harm you?
Improperly processed or packed meats and other foods can be contaminated with psychotrophic bacteria and moulds. The bacteria may also be present in unhygienic conditions in refrigerators or freezers. So when you eat foods contaminated with such bacteria, they will grow in your body and exhibit pathogenic conditions. Some bacteria may not be harmful themselves but they release toxins into the food which causes food poisoning. Bacteria such as some Coliforms, Pseudomonas sp., Vibrio sp. and Listeria sp. and moulds such as Penicillium and Cladosporium sp. are all known to survive low temperatures and become harmful once they are inside the human body.
And what do you do to protect yourself from food poisoning?
The following practices can safeguard you and your family from food poisoning (see the links below for details):
- Keep your refrigerators clean by wipping up spills immediately, cleaning surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water and then rinsing.
- throw out perishable and expired foods that should no longer be eaten. A general rule of thumb for refrigerator storage for cooked leftovers is 4 days; raw poultry and ground meats, 1 to 2 days.
- Verify the temperature of the refrigerator. Refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature of 40 °F or below.
If you suspect bacterial contamination in your home or office refrigerator, send us swabs of suspect areas and we’ll detect the bacteria and moulds for you. For more details, visit www.moldbacteria.com or call us at 905-290-9101. Follow the food safety and refrigeration rules and enjoy the coming celebration season!
Food Microbiology and Laboratory Practice. Bell Chris, P Neaves, and W. P. Anthony. Blackwell Publishing. 2005. ISBN 0-632-06381-5
Edited by: Dr. Jackson Kung’u, PhD.