8 frequent mistakes in refrigerating foods

By Ly Nguyen   March 31, 2024 | 03:03 pm PT
Failing to wash foods or encasing them in plastic bags before refrigeration are common practices that can foster bacterial growth and elevate the risk of gastrointestinal disorders.

Nutrition expert Nguyen Thi Thu Huyen of Tam Anh General Hospital in Hanoi highlighted that food contamination stands as a primary source of gastrointestinal ailments and food-borne illnesses. This contamination arises when bacteria flourish in food items. Despite many households using refrigeration to extend food shelf life, incorrect handling methods heighten contamination risks.

Here are eight prevalent errors made while refrigerating foods.

1. Neglecting to cleanse foods prior to refrigeration

Unwashed raw produce, meats, and seafood may harbor dangerous bacteria like E. coli, potentially leading to urinary infections, severe diarrhea, and bloodstream infections. These foods might also be contaminated with Listeria, Clostridium, and Salmonella, which are capable of causing symptoms such as stomach pains, headaches, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and fever.

To avert the transfer of bacteria to other food items, it's essential for households to thoroughly clean them before placing them in the fridge and to use designated storage bags or containers for food. Drying foods to eliminate surface moisture is recommended, as lingering dampness, particularly in vegetables, creates a conducive environment for bacterial and mold proliferation.

2. Incorrectly placing foods within the fridge

A widespread error involves storing eggs and milk on the door shelves of the refrigerator. The frequent opening and closing of the fridge door lead to temperature instability at the door shelves, creating conditions unsuitable for preserving these items.

Placing eggs on a refrigerators door shelves is a mistake many people make. Illustartion photo by Pexels

Placing eggs on a refrigerator's door shelves is a mistake many people make. Illustartion photo by Pexels

The fridge door is best reserved for items that withstand temperature variations well, such as condiments and dried goods.

Additionally, positioning raw and cooked foods in close proximity elevates the likelihood of foodborne illnesses. Bacteria from raw meats, seafood, and vegetables can readily contaminate prepared foods.

It's advisable for individuals to organize food items—like raw meats, fresh vegetables, and prepared foods—into separate, specified sections. The coldest areas of the fridge should be used for storing raw meats, seafood, and eggs to maintain their freshness for extended periods. Conducting regular inspections of the fridge to discard expired items is crucial for minimizing bacterial contamination risks.

3. Improperly covering leftover food

Exposed or inadequately covered food can easily get contaminated, facilitating the transfer of bacteria to adjacent food items. To prevent bacterial entry and maintain moisture in the foods, while also avoiding the absorption of odors from other foods in the fridge, wrapping them in airtight packaging or using containers designed for food storage before refrigeration is recommended.

4. Refrigerating food for too long

Prolonged storage of food in the fridge can jeopardize its safety. Certain items, such as vegetables and mushrooms, shouldn't be kept for more than a single night due to the significant rise in their nitrite content. Nitrite levels exceeding 0.01 mg per liter in adults can result in toxicity, with sustained exposure to it potentially leading to cancer.

Salads and meals not subjected to high-heat cooking are susceptible to contamination by bacteria or parasites. These pathogens can proliferate and thrive even while the food is refrigerated.

5. Allowing food to cool entirely before refrigeration

The cooling process of food from 100 degrees Celsius post-cooking allows bacteria to commence growth when temperatures reach 60 degrees Celsius. Between 30-40 degrees Celsius, bacterial growth accelerates. Without timely and appropriate preservation, food is at risk of spoilage and contamination by harmful bacteria.

Food should be placed in the refrigerator while it is between 70-80 degrees Celsius and securely wrapped in plastic wrap or placed in containers designed for food storage to block bacterial infiltration.

6. Utilizing plastic bags for food preservation

Though plastic bags offer convenience, they may contain cancer-risk posing colorants and bacteria-harboring substances. Opting for bags specially made for food or using glass and plastic containers with snug lids is preferable.

A woman opening a fridge. Illustration photo by Pexels

A woman opening a fridge. Illustration photo by Pexels

7. Refreezing food post-thawing

Refreezing previously thawed food creates an environment conducive to rapid bacterial multiplication. It is recommended to portion food appropriately and use it entirely after thawing to reduce bacterial growth risks.

For leftover thawed food, it's wise to store the surplus in a sealed food container, allocate it to a specific fridge area, and use it promptly. Foods fully thawed to room temperature or left out of the fridge for over two hours are deemed unsuitable for consumption.

Repeatedly freezing and thawing food can lead to a deterioration in texture, flavor, visual appeal, and overall quality, notably affecting the culinary experience.

8. Not cleaning the fridge regularly

Over time, food can generate a significant amount of bacteria in the fridge, resulting in unpleasant smells and heightened risks of gastrointestinal disorders. Regular fridge maintenance and cleaning are paramount for thwarting the accumulation of harmful bacteria and ensuring food safety.

Cleaning the fridge at least monthly, if not more often, by disposing of spoiled food and meticulously cleaning each section and nook is crucial. Immediate cleaning of any spills inside the fridge is vital not only to prevent Listeria growth but also to avert cross-contamination between food items.

Huyen remarked that while gastrointestinal infections might have minimal effects on adults, they pose serious risks for those with compromised immune systems, such as young children and the elderly.

Without timely intervention, gastrointestinal infections can progress to various complications, including irritable bowel syndrome, severe infections leading to intestinal bleeding, inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis, and chronic gastritis.

Individuals experiencing foodborne infection symptoms such as appetite loss, headaches, nausea, and diarrhea should seek medical advice. These symptoms generally appear within 24 hours of consuming contaminated food but can sometimes manifest later, ranging from a few days to several weeks, depending on the infecting bacteria's nature.

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