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Fresh Sheet: Beware of fridge drawer germs

First, researchers found some kitchens were dirtier than bathrooms. Now, experts are saying the vegetable bins in refrigerators are holding more than just lettuce, carrots and apples.

Tennessee State University researchers recently released a report saying those bottom refrigerator drawers contain the highest percentage of bacteria in home kitchens. They said poor refrigerator cleaning, mixing unwashed produce with uncovered raw meats and failing to keep the refrigerator at the recommended temperature of 40 degrees or lower all contribute to the problem.

Researchers said tough economic times are leading some people to raise the temperature of their refrigerators to try to save money on the energy bill. People also are less likely to throw food away when it’s past the recommended shelf storage date.

The findings were presented at the Institute for Food Technology Annual Meeting and Expo in New Orleans last week.

To keep your family safe from food-borne illness, here are some recommendations from

“Scrub down the inside of your refrigerator (including shelves and drawers) using a clean sponge and warm soapy water. Rinse with clean water and dry with paper towels or a clean cloth. Do not use cleaners that may pass on taste to food or cause damage to surfaces.

“Eliminate odors by placing an opened box of baking soda in the back of the refrigerator. Change the box every three months, at the time of your next cleaning.

“Wipe up spills immediately, especially from raw meat juices. Defrost meats on the bottom shelf in a covered container to reduce the chance of spills and cross-contamination.

“Keep the front grill free of dust to allow airflow to the condenser for best cooling and efficiency. Also, clean the condenser coils with a brush or vacuum. Unplug the refrigerator when cleaning the coils.

“Place a thermometer in the refrigerator to ensure it is operating as a safe temperature. Check several different places inside. The temperature should be 40 degrees or lower.

More food safety help

That bad bacteria news comes when many consumers are getting overwhelmed by the food safety worries they have to navigate every day.

Is it safe to use a wooden cutting board? What can I do to keep my family safe from salmonella? What should I do if a power outage warms the refrigerator and the freezer?

Washington State University Extension is hoping to help consumers cope with food safety worries through a new podcast.

The “Food Safety in a Minute” recordings feature easy-to-use tips for concerned consumers. The recordings are posted each Wednesday at 10 a.m. on the extension Web site at

The first two podcasts cover freezer safety in case of a power outage and preparedness for disasters or emergencies.

Creators plan to address issues including holiday food safety, tips for packing safe school lunches and canned food storage guidelines, according to a news release.

The Web site also links to other sources for food safety information through the WSU extension service.