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Mitzi Parker: September is National Food Safety Education Month

In recognition of National Food Safety Education Month, I’d like to share some common “myths” and “facts” on keeping food safe in the refrigerator from The Partnership for Food Safety Education, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Food and Drug Administration.
Myth 1: I don’t need a refrigerator thermometer; I can feel the cold air when I open the door.
Fact: You need to use a thermometer to ensure your refrigerator is at or below 40 degrees F.
If your refrigerator temperature is above 40 degrees F., your food is in the food safety “danger zone” where harmful bacteria can multiply and make you and your family sick! Keeping your refrigerator at or below 40 degrees F. slows the growth of bacteria.
Better safe than sorry! Refrigerator thermometers are inexpensive; use a thermometer and check air temperature often. If your refrigerator thermometer registers air temperature above 40 degrees F., locate the refrigerators temperature dial/control and adjust to a cooler setting. 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.
Listeria bacteria can grow at temperatures below 40 degrees F.
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.
• 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 the bacteria will die.
Fact: Refrigerator temperatures can slow the growth of bacteria, but will not stop the growth of bacteria in food.
Protect yourself 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.
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.
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 No. 1 “germiest” area in consumers’ kitchens! To prevent the buildup of bacteria that can cause food poisoning, 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.

Mitzi Parker is Sumter County Extension agent/Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact her at 229-924-4476.