October 30, 2014

Refrigerator Safety Act

The horrifying death of a child trapped in an abandoned refrigerator was the motivation behind a story by the Channel 5 news in Rio Grande Valley, Texas.

The station reported finding numerous refrigerators abandoned in people’s yards. This is certainly a danger and without question should be addressed as a public safety hazard, but the investigation states that “it’s against federal law to have such an appliance just sitting around.”

I was curious about this federal law called The Refrigerator Safety Act and looked into it myself. What I found is this:

{SEC. 1.} [15 U.S.C. 1211]
It shall be unlawful for any person to introduce or deliver
for introduction into interstate commerce any household
refrigerator manufactured on or after the date this section takes
effect unless it is equipped with a device, enabling the door
there of to be opened from the inside,
which conforms with
standards prescribed pursuant to section 3.

The law was to become effective after the various standards were defined, all of which followed the Refrigerator Safety Act’s publication date of August 2, 1956. This also appears to be misunderstood in the news story.

The local station also reported that “The law says that if you’re going to keep a refrigerator around, the doors and locks must be removed.”

I could find nothing that requires the owner to alter their appliance. The manufacturer is required to make it possible to open it from inside, preventing entrapment. I don’t think a panicked, trapped child (or adult) will be able to find the release mechanism and get out. The concept is good, but in practice, I don’t think it will work. Removing the doors is a great idea, it just doesn’t appear to be legally required.

Please don’t misunderstand me – I have taped, tied and locked my empty freezer before turning it to the wall and locking it in the garage away from all children and animals. I take the safety of others very seriously, I just couldn’t find the federal law that could fine me if I didn’t take government mandated precautions. I don’t have a solution or an answer to what should or shouldn’t be governed; I’ll try to do what I believe to be right to protect others, but I like to be clear about laws.

Take a look at the law here, and see if my reading comprehension needs improving. In the meantime, please, don’t leave any appliance large enough to contain a living breathing, creature out where it will be a hazard- federal law or not.

Helpful Refrigerator Tips

Here are a few quick ideas to help keep your fridge cool and your family healthy:

Refrigerate hot foods as soon as possible and within two hours after cooking.  You can put hot foods in the refrigerator – they cool faster there – just put them in small, shallow containers for faster cooling.

Keep the refrigerator at 40F degrees or lower.  If you’re not sure of te temperature, you can buy and inexpensive refrigerator thermometer and adjust the temperature if necessary.

Date leftovers so they can be used within a safe time.  Most foods are usually safe if eaten within three to five days of being refrigerated.  Foods from restaurants should generally be eaten sooner.

Don’t overload the refrigerator. You need space between the containers for the cold air to circulate.  This not only keeps the food uniformly cold, but helps the unit run efficiently.

Food Safety and Your Refrigerator

We all know how important it is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables everyday.   One of the easiest ways to do that is to keep the fridge produce drawers stocked with your family’s favorites .  The problem arises with how most people maintain those drawers.  The details of how a refrigerator is cleaned and its temperature, along with how food is prepared and stored were discussed by a panel of experts meeting in New Orleans this June.

Vegetable bins in home refrigerators contain the highest percentage of bacteria,” said Sandria Godwin, a food scientist with Tennessee State University and part of a four-member panel that presented its findings on consumer refrigeration trends.

“You don’t have to go to a party or a restaurant to get food poisoning,” she said. “We are all looking for someone to blame when it comes to food safety, but there are things we can do to reduce the risk, especially for high-risk groups such as the elderly, infants and children.”

Poor refrigerator cleaning, mixing unwashed vegetables with uncovered raw meats in the storage bins, failing to install a refrigerator thermometer, and not maintaining the recommended refrigerator temperature of 40 degrees are all food spoilers and bacteria multipliers.

While less scientific than some of the other findings, uncertain economic times have also forced consumers to view raising the temperature in the refrigerator as a way to save on their energy bill, panelists said. It has also made consumers less likely to throw away food that is past its recommended self date.

Consumers with a higher income are less likely to keep their refrigerator clean, Godwin said. She cited busy lifestyles and time constraints as the cause.

We have a big challenge because it’s hard to change behaviors,” said Danielle Schor, senior vice president of food safety with the nonprofit International Food Information Council in Washington, D.C.

“People think food-borne illness is something you just get over,” Schor said. “It’s not a stomach ache; it can cause a lot of damage, but people don’t always see the immediate consequence so they don’t realize the danger.”

The 68th Annual Meeting and Expo of The Institute of Food Technologists, has attracted about 15,000 food scientists and others in the food technology industry, including representatives from the academic, private, nonprofit and government sectors.