Clean your refrigerator at least once a month - Hindustan Times
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Clean your refrigerator at least once a month

Sep 19, 2020 08:00 PM IST

When was the last time you deep cleaned your refrigerator? If you cannot remember, it’s time you set about doing just that because in the absence of regular cleaning , your refrigerator could well be harbouring disease-causing micro organisms.

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Before frost-free refrigerators made their way into the market, consumers were forced to defrost their refrigerators once a week. Since that required emptying out the fridge and switching off the machine , that was also the time the refrigerators were thoroughly cleaned with a detergent solution and wiped dry.

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The self- defrosting machines of today have freed consumers from that cumbersome job, but in the process, consumers have lost the habit of cleaning their refrigerators regularly.

Several studies conducted in different countries have shown a variety of pathogenic microbes in the refrigerators, reinforcing the need to clean them frequently to ensure the safety of food stored.

Samples taken from the base, shelves and sides of refrigerators in the district of Vellore, Tamil Nadu, for example, revealed the presence of bacteria that cause gastrointestinal infections, besides infections in the urinary and respiratory tracts, such as Citrobactor, Proteus, Salmonella and E.Coli .

In their paper titled “Isolation of various bacteria pathogens from domestic refrigerators” published in the Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical and Clinical Research in 2012, the authors said there was an urgent need for consumer education on regular cleaning of the refrigerator , maintaining the right temperature, besides proper food storage and hand hygiene practices.

More recently in 2019, the UK consumer Magazine ‘Which’, brought out by Consumers’ Association, analysed 10 refrigerators, for the presence of microbes. Five samples were taken from each refrigerator -- from the bottom shelf meant for storing meat, vegetable drawer, upper door rack, back wall of the refrigerator and the outer door handle. Analysis of the samples found that seven out of 10 refrigerators had harmful germs. Out of the 50 samples, 19 had high concentrations of Enterobacter cloacae and Klebsiella Oxytoca- bacteria that can cause respiratory and urinary tract infections.

Another study published in the American Journal of Epidemology and Infectious Disease in 2017, revealed that all the 50 randomly selected household refrigerators in Calabar Metropolis, Nigeria, were contaminated with bacteria. In addition , 32 per cent had fungal and 28 per cent had parasitic organisms.

So it is absolutely essential to regularly and thoroughly clean the refrigerator -- at least once a month, say food scientists. It is also extremely important to maintain the refrigerator at below 4 degree Celsius, freezer compartment at minus 18 degree C and not to crowd the refrigerator, so as to allow proper air circulation inside. And the cooked and ready to eat food should always be properly covered with a tight lid to prevent not only microbial contamination, but also the possibility of any worms or insects from raw vegetables (that may have been kept without cleaning) getting into food.

Since the source of contamination is mainly raw food, it is always best to thoroughly wash and dry all fruits and vegetables before storing them in the refrigerator. Similarly, raw meat and poultry should be kept separately in tightly sealed containers. Always separate raw and cooked food and raw food on the bottom shelf and ready-to-eat food at the top .

I must also mention that even though scientists say that there is no evidence of food borne transmission of Novel Coronavirus, they do say that the virus may survive for long periods in a refrigerator. Of course this is based on a 2010 study that used two surrogate viruses or viruses that were similar to SARS-CoV to examine the effect of temperature and humidity on its survival and found that at 4 degree C and a relative humidity of 20 per cent, for example, two-thirds of them survived for as long as 28 days. So do play safe and sanitise packets before you put them into the refrigerator.

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