What's Lurking in Your Refrigerator?

We explain why you should cover your food -- even in the fridge.

Posted by Cris Carl | Apr 03, 2011
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tepman/stock.xchngYour refrigerator may be a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. While refrigerators should be set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which inhibit some types of bacteria, there are also many types of bacteria that thrive in low temperatures. Given the right circumstances, which include temperature, nutrients, air, and moisture, bacteria can grow very quickly in your refrigerator. Also, all jokes about penicillin experiments aside, once mold begins to grow, it can migrate to other foods.

A few questions you can ask yourself:

1. Do you clean your refrigerator every one to two weeks?

2. Do you make sure there is no food or drips on the containers you are placing in the refrigerator?

3. Is the refrigerator door being opened a lot?

4. How often do you clean out older leftovers from the refrigerator?

5. Are you placing uncovered food in the refrigerator?

How to prevent unsanitary conditions in your refrigerator:


Like Goldilocks, mold and bacteria generally like temperatures that are not too hot and not too cold. If you allow food to sit out for extended periods of time, bacteria will grow. Putting the food in the refrigerator after significant contamination will not do much to prevent food poisoning. In addition, if the weather is warm, you are also likely to end up with insects or their eggs in your food.

While there are pros and cons to putting hot food in the refrigerator, the fact is, hot food in the refrigerator will make your condenser work harder to cool the space. A way to keep your food safer is to cool hot foods, such as pots of soup, in a cold water or ice bath, then store in the refrigerator.

Clean your refrigerator frequently, every one to two weeks, with a disinfectant or mild bleach solution.

Be aware of the temperature in your refrigerator. If the door is opened a lot, the temperature will drop, putting your food at risk.

How old is too old?


Raw meats and poultry should never be left in the refrigerator longer than one to two days. Cooked leftovers should be thrown out after four days tops.

Keep your meats and poultry in plastic bags as they may have already been contaminated with molds and bacteria if they were improperly processed or packaged.

Keep in mind that your food is decaying while it is in the refrigerator – just at a slower rate. Also, even if your food is in the freezer for a long time, it will still decay. It may not become toxic, but it sure won’t taste good.

If you have ice cube trays, re-fill them every few days as ice tends to absorb odors from foods.

Should foods in the refrigerator be covered?

An unequivocal yes – food in the refrigerator should always be covered. Besides being prone to drying the food out or absorbing other foods odors, foods can cross-contaminate or have condensation dripping on them. Air and moisture allows bacteria to grow.

Foods you are storing in your refrigerator are best kept in air-tight containers. Plastic wraps and aluminum foil can add to condensation, but are not harmful for short-term storage. In a pinch, at least put the food in a bowl and cover it with a dish.

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