Refrigerators can be germ incubators

Every year, one in six Americans is impacted by foodborne illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What’s even scarier? About nine percent of foodborne illness outbreaks start right in your home.

Believe it or not, these debilitating cases are (mostly) preventable.

“Most of the time, food poisoning strikes within 24 hours of eating contaminated food. You might experience severe stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and chills,” explained Dr. Thulashie Sivarajah, Geisinger infectious disease physician. “Most of the time food poisoning lasts between a few hours and several days and doesn’t require a visit to the doctor.”

But rather than deal with food poisoning, you can take some preventive steps to keep your refrigerator clean and contamination-free. Here’s what could make you sick in your fridge.

Clean out your fridge regularly
If your fridge is packed full of food from week to week, you’re bound to occasionally spill some milk, juice or food from a takeout box. To limit the chance of bacteria growth, clean out your fridge one to two times a month. Remove the shelves and drawers and clean them with dish soap and hot water or spray surfaces with a solution of vinegar and water. 

Watch “use by” and “sell by” dates
Your fridge-cleaning routine should also include reviewing “use by” and “sell by” dates. These dates can sometimes be confusing to understand, but a good rule of thumb is that foods are good to eat before the expiration date and five days after a “sell by” date.

Wipe up spills immediately
Orchestrating dinner every night is a production but it’s still important to take precautions when you’re preparing food so you don’t contaminate your fridge. If you spill a condiment, the contents of a takeout box or juice from raw meat, wipe it up immediately with kitchen cleaner.

Keep your fridge nice and cool
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), bacteria can begin to grow at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Periodically check the temperature gauge in your refrigerator to make sure it’s below 40 degrees. And if your refrigerator doesn’t have a visible thermometer, consider adding one. 

Look before you bite
“If you’re unsure of whether or not a food is safe to eat, take a good look at it and give it a whiff. Spoiled food often smells ‘off’ and at close inspection may be growing mold,” said Dr. Sivarajah. “And the bottom line is if you’re unsure, you shouldn’t eat it.”

In addition to cleaning your refrigerator frequently, it’s important to also disinfect the handle of your refrigerator, your sink faucet, trash can lid, and cupboard and drawer pulls. Cooking food properly will also keep you and your family from getting sick.

Unfortunately, it’s likely that someone in your family will experience food poisoning at some point, whether from your kitchen or someone else’s. If you are faced with vomiting and diarrhea, stay hydrated.

“The most common complication of food poisoning is dehydration because you are vomiting or have diarrhea for an extended period of time,” explained Dr. Sivarajah. “It’s important to try to drink water or a sports drink with electrolytes, or eat ice chips. If you feel dizzy or aren’t urinating, you may need to see a doctor.”

National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day is November 15, which is a great time to examine what’s in your fridge. If you think you have a foodborne illness and your symptoms have lasted longer than two days, call your doctor.

 

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