Bacteria exists everywhere in nature. It is in the soil, air,
water, and the foods we eat. When bacteria has nutrients (food),
moisture, and favorable temperatures, it can grow rapidly,
increasing in numbers to the point where some types of bacteria can
cause illness. Bacteria grows most rapidly in the range of
temperatures between 40°F 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 protect most foods.
There are two different families of
bacteria in refrigerated food:
bacteria - the kind that cause food-borne
bacteria - the kind of bacteria that cause
foods to deteriorate and develop unpleasant odors, tastes, and
bacteria can grow rapidly in the "Danger Zone," the temperature
range between 40 and 140 °F, but they do not generally affect the
taste, smell, or appearance of a food. In other words, one cannot
tell that a pathogen is present.
bacteria can grow at low temperatures, such as in the refrigerator.
Eventually they cause food to develop off or bad tastes and smells.
Most people would not choose to eat spoiled food, but if they did,
they probably would not get sick. It comes down to an issue of
quality versus safety:
- Food that has been left too long on the counter may be
dangerous to eat, but could look fine.
- Food that has been stored too long in the refrigerator or
freezer may be of lessened quality, but most likely would not make
anyone sick. (However, some bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes
thrive at cold temperatures, and if present, will multiply in the
refrigerator over time and could cause illness.)
For safety, it is important to verify the temperature of the
refrigerator. Refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature
of 40 °F or below. Some refrigerators have built-in thermometers to
measure their internal temperature. For those refrigerators without
this feature, keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator to
monitor the temperature. This can be critical in the event of a
power outage. When the power goes back on, if the refrigerator is
still 40 °F, the food is safe. Foods held at temperatures above 40
°F for more than 2 hours should not be consumed. Appliance
thermometers are specifically designed to provide accuracy at cold
temperatures. Be sure refrigerator/freezer doors are closed tightly
at all times. Don't open refrigerator/freezer doors more often than
necessary and close them as soon as possible.
Sealed crisper drawers provide an optimal storage environment
for fruits and vegetables. Vegetables require higher humidity
conditions while fruits require lower humidity conditions. Some
crispers are equipped with controls to allow the consumer to
customize each drawer's humidity level. An adjustable
temperature meat drawer maximizes the storage time of meats and
cheeses. Additional cool air is directed into the drawer to keep
items very cold without freezing.
Safety of Foods Stored on the
Don't store perishable foods in the door. Even though there is
an egg compartment on many refrigerator doors, eggs should be
stored in the carton on the shelf. The temperature of the
storage bins in the door fluctuate more than the temperature in the
cabinet. So, keep the door closed as much as possible. Also, make
sure that there are no food containers blocking the door and
preventing a firm seal.
A refrigerator is one of the most important pieces of equipment
in the kitchen for keeping foods safe. These electric units are so
commonplace today, we forget a refrigerator was once little more
than a box with a block of ice that used to supply a rather
undependable source of cold air. Pay attention to your refrigerator
temperatures and keep your family safe.
At Fiesta Mart, we continually monitor the temperatures in
all of our store refrigerators and freezers to make sure our foods
are safe. Automatic closing doors help keep a more consistent
temperature within the refrigerator units, even if a customer
forgets to physically close the door. We also check expiration
dates on individual food packages and use the FIFO rule
(first-in-first-out) to assure you that your groceries are as fresh
For more information on food safety, visit the web site for