Does your college dorm mini-fridge pass the food safety test?
A lifesaver for many college students, a mini refrigerator is a perfect solution for keeping cold food handy for aspiring students. But does your mini-fridge pass or fail the basic food safety tests?
As the spring semester draws to a close it’s time to clean out the dorm room, but don’t forget that includes the mini-fridge. Who knew such a compact appliance could be so popular for stashing leftovers and providing quick access to food for late night studying. Michigan State University Extension reminds students about important food safety refrigeration practices that directly affect the safety of food including: The internal temperature of your fridge, how well you package your food, along with how long food is stored in a refrigerator. As you or your roommate draw straws to see who gets to clean out the beloved mini-fridge, see how well you adhered this school year to following food safety recommendations.
Whether the mini-fridge is new or quite old, don’t assume that it is automatically set at a safe temperature. Newer models may have a built-in thermostat to monitor the fridge and freezer, but most do not. The only way to know if your fridge is set at a safe temperature is to use a refrigerator thermometer. The refrigerator compartment should remain at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less and your freezer at zero degrees. If the temperature was above 40 degrees, adjust the temperature control and retest later. Allow the thermometer to be in the fridge for five to eight hours for an adequate reading. Cool air escapes every time the fridge door opens, so be mindful of this. Also be sure the fridge has a good door seal minimizing cool air from escaping to maintain a consistent 40 degrees to keep food adequately chilled.
Since the interior of a mini-fridge is very small, this places a higher likelihood for different types of food items to touch one another. To help protect against cross contamination, purchase large and small resealable plastic bags and place all food items in bags to keep them separate, especially if food items get stacked on each other. The bags work well to contain liquids such as juices from leftovers, or carry out food items from dripping onto perishable foods or produce. The low temperature of the fridge helps to slow bacterial growth but does not fully prevent it. Allow air to circulate around food to help keep all food properly chilled. Do not over pack the fridge which can cause the door to have difficulty closing and sealing completely.
It is a good idea to write the date on each plastic bag when it first goes into the mini fridge. School life is so busy and labeling makes keeping track of how long food has been in the fridge much easier. If you are sharing the fridge with roommates add your name to the food label for quick identification. Leftovers should be eaten within three to four days. It is not safe to eat leftovers beyond this recommended period even if the food looks and smells fine. You cannot always see bacterial growth, but you can be sure that the bacteria are beginning to multiply which can cause food borne illness and/or food decay. Always reheat leftovers to steamy hot, 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and be sure to stir food while reheating to allow the center portion of food to reheat fully. Be mindful of expiration dates. Try to clean out the mini-fridge at least weekly. Always heed the USDA’s food safety warning; “When it Doubt Throw it Out.”
Finally, keeping the mini-fridge clean is very important. Be sure to wipe up spills promptly using hot soapy water then rinse. Now that the semester is over, if the cleanliness of mini-fridge has been neglected then a thorough cleaning is in order. Use a small amount of white vinegar and water to help remove odors. Avoid using abrasives or harsh chemicals that can leave a chemical smell or taste. Once the mini-fridge is thoroughly clean, if you are storing it, unplug it and prop of the door slightly open to allow air flow to prevent bacterial growth.
The mini-fridge – what a modern marvel for the hectic pace of college life! The mini-fridge will do its function in keeping foods cold, and now you can feel good doing your part to keep foods safe throughout the school year.