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Don’t let your RV fridge make you sick

By Russ and Tiña De Maris
As RVers, we come from all backgrounds and dispositions, but there’s something we all agree on: We like to eat. Reaching into the chilled recesses of my RV’s refrigerator and grabbing something cold to drink or snack on is something I really love about the lifestyle. Your kitchen is always there, but we don’t always think too much about RV fridge safety.

But hang on: “You don’t have to go to a restaurant or to a party to get sick,” said Chin-Fu Chen, Ph.D., a microbiologist at the University of Tennessee. He found a variety of pathogens in a quarter of the refrigerators he inspected during a study. Vegetable bins were the most contaminated.

How safe is your RV fridge?

While the study was based on home refrigerators, it seems like sometimes when we’re away from home, we may get a bit less fussy about some things. Is your RV reefer safer than the one back home? Well, here’s some cold food for thought regarding RV fridge safety.

“There is a disconnect between food safety practices and people’s confidence in preparing foods safely. It’s very hard to change behaviors,” said Danielle Schor, R.D., at the time a senior vice president of the food safety division of the International Food Information Council (IFIC), a nonprofit organization that addresses consumer education.

IFIC took up the safe refrigeration cause with a customized campaign. The campaign’s main message to consumers is to purchase thermometers, keep refrigerator temperatures at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and monitor frequently.

Aside from throwing out ready-to-eat foods by package storage dates, refrigerators need a weekly cleaning, a practice that consumers avoid. One study shows that approximately 50 percent of consumers clean their refrigerators once a month. But because consumers fail to clean thoroughly, scientists say that figure is likely exaggerated.

So how often to clean the cooler for the best RV fridge safety? Once a week, with dish soap, say the chill box experts. Then let the shelves and drawers air dry. (Others say once a month, as long as you clean up after spills and avoid cross-contamination of foods.)

Of course, keeping the food temperature down to 40 degrees is a must, and follow recognized safety limits on how long to hold onto food. When traveling, keep a really close eye on food temperature. While we don’t advocate traveling with the fridge on, it’s a good idea to check the inside temperature when you get to your daily stopping point.

Related:

Keep this bug out of your RV to help prevent food poisoning
Four Steps to Food Safety, from the CDC
How often should you clean your fridge? from cnet.com

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Bill Larsen
8 months ago

We also run the frig during lunch breaks or when we are parked for a couple hours sightseeing or whatever. Every little bit helps.

Gene Bjerke
8 months ago

When we are on the road we run the fridge on DC. It will not cool it down, but it will maintain whatever temperature it is at to start with.

Sink Jaxon
8 months ago

Always travel with fridge off, and with blue ice paks in fridge, especially next to the meats.

Fred
8 months ago

I’ve never understood the obsession with turning the fridge off when travelling. I’ve heard of the horror stories of the recalled Norcold fridges, but we have a Dometic that has run almost non stop for 12 years of fulltime travel, over 125K miles, in the dead of winter below 0 deg, in the heat of summer at 120 deg in Yuma, AZ, at 12K ft altitude in the Rocky mountains, & 150 ft below sea level in Death Valley. We’ve travelled to every state at least once & Alaska twice. The fridge has never caused any problems other than a slight difficulty keeping the temp below 40 deg at 120 deg outside. I’m not an expert on rv fridges, but in my opinion, the Norcold problems with fires has made everyone paranoid about fridges in general. I pay more attention to maintaining the right temp (37-40 deg) than I do about turning it off when travelling. Defrosting every 2 weeks & the position of the temperature sensor on the cooling fins are important in maintaining a steady temperature.

Charles Allen
8 months ago
Reply to  Fred

I totally agree. We always travel with our fridge on. Only exception is during refueling I do turn the propane off.

Tommy Molnar
8 months ago

Years ago when we had two cats, they were our food testers. Anytime we opened the fridge they would magically appear. We’d take the item in question (usually lunch meat) out and they would both stand up with their front paws on our legs, doing the usual begging. We’d take a piece of the item in question and try to give them each a morsel. If they slid back down our legs and skulked away, we tossed it out.

Drew
8 months ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

I never heard of that method Tommy- I wonder if it has any real scientific validity. 🙂

Tommy Molnar
8 months ago
Reply to  Drew

I have to admit. We stumbled on it by accident. The stuff we would ‘test’ was stuff they normally gobbled up!

Jill
8 months ago

Thanks for the important reminder about food safety. We should also try to practice FIFO, first in first out. This saves money by reducing spoilage and waste. While I don’t clean weekly, I do use chlorox wipes for quick cleaning of spills as well as deep cleaning. These are most effective when you allow the chlorox to air dry and don’t wipe it dry. I also have a mini fridge fan to help circulate the cold air. My 3rd tip is to use a separate bin for raw meats. This prevents cross contamination and clean up is easier if a meat package should leak.

Impavid
8 months ago

Russ and Tiña another great article. I’m a little OCD when it comes to leftovers and meats. No one has ever gotten sick on my watch but I’ve never really given vegetables much thought once I’ve washed them and put them in the fridge. All products you buy today have an expiry date. That date is good as long as the item remains unopened ie: packaged process meats. Mmm, gotta love them nitrates. Once you open that package of balogna (which you never really know what’s ground in there to start with) you only have a limited amount of time to use the product before it can make you sick. As always, the “nose” test is usually a good indicator.

Philip Sponable
8 months ago

Hogwash… breed genetically healthier people…😂

HT Morgan
8 months ago

The article is great and in principle, I agree. But in reality, I’ve never found a way to keep either of our refrigerators always below 40 degrees. I have a class A motorhome and a truck camper. Both are absorption refrigerators. I’ve done all I know; fans, extra insulation, shade, leave on while traveling… nothing helps. A reality that comes with a RV. Plus changing over to compressor refrigerator is a hugh expense beyond the cost of the refrigerator.

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