Food Poisoning

Refrigerating Food the Right Way

With age comes a change in our immune system: It becomes a bit sluggish in recognizing and ridding the body of harmful bacteria and other pathogens that can cause foodborne illness. The body doesn’t react like it used to – older adults who contract a foodborne illness are more likely to have a lengthier illness and to be hospitalized. Listeria can spread through the bloodstream to cause meningitis and can often be fatal. The older you are, the greater the risk. An adult over 65 is four times more likely to contract Listeriosis than is another healthy adult.

But simple solutions like making sure the refrigerator is set at the right temperature could make all the difference. The nonprofit Partnership for Food Safety Education is introducing a new campaign, GO 40 °F OR BELOW, to call attention to the importance of the home refrigerator in reducing the risk of foodborne illness, especially among adults age 65 and over.  Refrigeration at 40 °F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

According to a risk assessment produced by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), refrigeration at 40 °F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

The assessment, cited by the Partnership for Food Safety Education, found that the predicted number of cases of Listeriosis would be reduced by more than 70% if all home refrigerator temperatures did not exceed 41 °F. The only way to be sure the home refrigerator is at or below the recommended temperature of 40 °F or below is to measure the temperature with a refrigerator thermometer. This type of thermometer is usually a separate tool that stays in the refrigerator and displays the actual temperature.

Besides keeping your refrigerator at a safe temperature, the Partnership for Food Safety Education experts say, you should always follow the core rules for food safety:


Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets.

Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food.

Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.

Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten.

Rub firm-skin fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water.


Cross-contamination is how bacteria can be spread. When handling raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods. Always start with a clean scene — wash hands with warm water and soap. Wash cutting boards, dishes, countertops and utensils with hot soapy water.