The Best Fridge Temperature to Keep Food Fresh—And Safe

From the refrigerator to the grill—and ultimately, your tummy—find out how to reduce your risk for food poisoning this summer.

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Best temperature for fridge - woman opening refrigerator door
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How to Prevent Food Poisoning

Keep your fridge at 4°C

That’s according to Lawrence Goodridge, the Ian and Jayne Munro chair in food safety at McGill University. “Anything above that and bacteria can potentially grow.” When food is kept any higher, bacteria may double in as little as 20 minutes.

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How to prevent food poisoning - meat thermometer in burger
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Always use a meat thermometer

“There’s a slogan at Health Canada,” says Jeffrey Farber, a food-science professor at the University of Guelph. “Your burger’s done at 71!” (That’s degrees Celsius, to be precise.) Home chefs should use a meat thermometer. If you like your meat medium rare, don’t fret—you can get away with cooking it to 63°C.

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Food Safety - Ground Beef
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Be wary of bacteria in ground meat

“The process of grinding meat can introduce bacteria from the grinding surface,” says Farber, while more intact cuts only have bacteria on the surface.

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Hand opening refrigerator door
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Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of cooking

That even goes for pizza, rice and vegetables. Be sure to reheat those meals to 74°C, too, says Goodridge. Bacteria can grow while food is in the fridge, so you should also avoid eating leftovers cold.

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Chicken breast defrosting
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Defrost meat slowly in the fridge

You can also thaw it in cold water, says Farber—it maintains a consistent temperature.

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How to prevent food poisoning - making homemade playdough
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Handle non-food items carefully

Homemade playdough, for example, was linked to E. coli outbreaks in 2016 and 2017 that sickened at least 30 people in Canada. Wash your hands thoroughly after playtime to avoid falling ill.

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How to prevent food poisoning - bird sitting on cage
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Wash up after handling your scaly or feathered friends

April Hexemer, a manager of the outbreak management division at the Public Health Agency of Canada points out that birds, reptiles and amphibians can carry salmonella. Wash your hands carefully after feeding and touching these pets or being in their environments.

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How to prevent food poisoning - man with stomach ache
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Know how long it can take for food poisoning symptoms to appear

Campylobacteriosis, the most frequently reported foodborne illness in Canada, produces symptoms anywhere from two to five days after exposure, says Hexemer. Salmonella shows up after one to three days and E. coli infection after one to 10.

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Provolone cheese
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Brush up on food safety guidelines

Best-before dates refer only to freshness and quality, says Goodridge. Instead, acquaint yourself with safety guidelines for specific foods. Deli meats, hot dogs and soft cheeses, for example, are associated with listeria, a type of bacteria that can grow in cold temperatures. Consume these foods within two to three days of opening them.

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How to avoid food poisoning - man sniffing milk
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Don’t rely on the smell test

“The bacteria that spoil food are not the same as those that make us sick,” says Goodridge. If the food smells, it’s not safe to eat, but a lack of odour doesn’t guarantee it’s edible. Aim to consume leftovers within two to three days to avoid food poisoning.

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Inside of doctor's room
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If you think you’ve contracted a foodborne illness, go to the doctor or the hospital

If you don’t, says Goodridge, public health professionals won’t know that you got sick. Reporting your illness helps alert the correct authorities and gets contamin­ated food recalled faster.

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How to prevent food poisoning - man sniffing milk
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If you have a severe case of bacterial food poisoning, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics

Otherwise, focus on replacing lost fluids and electrolytes, getting lots of rest and reintroducing solid foods.

Now that you know how to avoid poisoning, consult our healthy home checklist to eliminate potential hazards in every room.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada

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