This is probably not the best situation.
The first problem is air circulation. With food crammed every which way the refrigerator may not have good air flow. Boxes of food could be blocking the vents. This could prevent the refrigerator from properly cooling—or just the opposite—keep it too cold and freeze lettuce and other items. Not only does overfilling block air vents, restrict circulation it can reduce the energy efficiency.
Here are three rules to help you keep your food fresh and to avoid the risk of foodborne illness:
- Don’t overload your refrigerator. Lots of food can alter the temperature in the refrigerator. The best refrigerator storage temperature is 40 degrees or below. The only way to really know what the temperature is to use a refrigerator thermometer. Higher temperatures will shorten length of time the food will keep without bacteria growth.
- Take some advice from food service professionals in regards to where food is placed in the refrigerator. Raw meats, fish and poultry should be stored BELOW foods that won’t be cooked—this includes ready-to-eat foods, raw fruits and vegetables. Most home refrigerator designs don’t usually help with this since many of them have the fruit and vegetable crisper drawers below where there is space to store the raw meat. In this case, consider storing the raw items in sealed containers or securely wrapped to prevent the raw juices from dripping and contaminating the other foods.
- Perishable foods shouldn’t be stored on the refrigerator door. This is another one of those design features that may not be “food safety friendly”. Even though there is room for it—don’t store milk on the door. Those little cubby holes for eggs should also be ignored; eggs should be stored in their original cartons inside the refrigerator and not on the door. These foods are perishable and every time the door is opened they are exposed to warmer room temps. This could reduce their quality and leave accessible to a foodborne illness pathogen.
Keep the Tetris puzzles for the computer and don’t play games with your food’s safety.
Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University