Be a Food Safe Office Mate: Help Keep the Office Refrigerator Clean

When it comes to safe food handling everything that comes in contact with food must be kept clean— including the refrigerator and freezer. You probably keep your refrigerator at home clean, but the office refrigerator may be a problem because it’s typically a shared responsibility. Here are some tips that may help.

Keep it at a Safe Temperature — 40 °F or Lower

Refrigeration slows bacterial growth. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 and 140 °F, the “Danger Zone,” some doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. A refrigerator set at 40 °F or below will effectively slow the growth of most bacteria. The freezer temperature should be 0° F. Be sure to check  your refrigerator and freezer temperatures periodically with appliance ther­mometers.

Keep it Clean

If your office doesn’t already have a schedule for cleaning, why not start one? Make it a habit to throw out perishable foods left in the refrigerator at least once a week. A general rule of thumb for refrigerator storage for cooked leftovers is 4 days.

Wipe up spills immediately before they turn into a major cleaning job. Clean surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water and  then rinse.

Refer to the Storage Times for the Refrigerator and Freezer chart for storage guidelines of perishable products in the refrigerator. Print a copy and post on the refrigerator door as a reminder for all who use it. To search for a specific food visit the Food Marketing Institutes’ “Food Keeper” website for more storage guidelines.

To keep the refrigerator smelling fresh and help eliminate odors, place an opened box of baking soda on a shelf. Avoid using solvent cleaning agents, abrasives, and all cleansers that may impart a chemical taste to food or ice cubes, or cause damage to the interior finish of the refrigerator. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Storage Basics

  1. Check storage directions on labels
    Many items other than meats, vegetables, and dairy products need to be kept cold. For instance, mayonnaise and ketchup should go in the refrigerator after opening. If you’ve neglected to properly refrig­erate something, it’s usually best to throw it out.
  1. Check expiration dates
    If food is past its “use by” date, discard it. If you’re not sure or if the food looks questionable, throw it out.
  1. Be on alert for spoiled food
    Anything that looks or smells suspicious should be thrown out. Mold is a sign of spoil­age. It can grow even under refrig­eration. Mold is not a major health threat, but it can make food unappe­tizing. The safest practice is to throw out moldy food.
  1. Share the responsibility
    Do you feel like you are the only one concerned about the cleanliness of the refrigerator? Make it a food safety issue! Not everyone may realize the importance of keeping all food contact surfaces, like the refrigerator, clean. Because bacteria are everywhere, cleanliness is a major factor in preventing food poisoning.

By Howard Seltzer, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

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