A study has revealed that refrigerator salad drawers can contain up to 750 times the level of bacteria considered safe, with potential killers such as E.Coli 0157, salmonella and listeria lurking in our fridges at much higher rates than previously suspected.
According to the Food Standards Agency, each year in the UK around a million people suffer a food-borne illness.
Twenty thousand of these receive hospital treatment and 500 die from food poisoning. It also costs the economy £1.5 billion a year.
'The vast majority of food poisoning occurs because of under-cooking or cross contamination of food,’ says Professor Tom Humphrey of the Institute of Infection and Global Health at the University of Liverpool.
'Understanding food storage — and most fresh food is stored in the fridge — is integral to preventing food poisoning in your home.’
Here, we reveal the dangers hiding in your fridge, and how to protect yourself.
GERMS CAN SURVIVE COLD TEMPERATURES
'Many people wrongly believe that chilling food kills off bacteria,’ says Professor Humphrey.
'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. Indeed, 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.’
Most people do not keep their fridges at a cold enough temperature, says Prof Humphrey.
'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 four degrees. Don’t leave the fridge door open for long, and never put hot food in the fridge, as this will also push the internal temperature back up.’
PERILS OF A PACKED FRIDGE
We ask much more of our fridges now than we did even ten years ago, says Prof Humphrey.
'Our parents’ generation stored opened jars or jams, or ketchups, in cupboards, and because of the high content of preservatives in these items, that was perfectly safe. Now, food manufacturers are cutting back on preservatives in line with consumer demand and Government health guidelines and, as a result, these products are more likely to need to go into the fridge after they have been opened.’
Meanwhile, be sure to give your fridge a regular clean, says Prof Humphrey.
'Fridges need cleaning out once a week with very hot water and disinfectant if you wish, with the raw meat compartment being cleaned out every few days — certainly when it becomes smelly.’
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