Special Assignment: Dirty Secrets

April 30, 2007

There have been lots of food recalls in recent weeks, but experts say the real danger isn't the food you buy...it's where you put it.

It's a secret most of us don't even know we're keeping. It's in your kitchen at home and at work. It's dangerous, and it's time to expose the ugly truth.

You can't see it and you can't hear it...but it's there, waiting, ready to make you sick.

Your refrigerator might look clean, but experts say it's actually your dirty secret, filled with even more secrets.

We took our food experts, Inger Stallman from the Medical College of Georgia and Amy Vehrenkamp, an intern at University Hospital, to the home of the Asselin family.

"We're a little on the Type A side," Margaret Asselin told News 12.

Our food experts were looking for trouble in the Asselins' fridge, and they found it right away.

The temperature was somewhere between 48 and 50 degrees. This is a major problem.

"Everything's going to spoil a lot faster, and the bacteria grows a lot more rapidly if it's not kept below 40," Amy explained.

Then there's the placement--problem number 2.

"The ready-to-eat foods and already cooked food are on the first couple of shelves," Amy said.

You should put your eggs on the top shelf too, right there with your leftovers.

Don't put eggs in the door. That puts them at risk to spoil.

"Are there any other skeletons in your closet?" Inger asked.

And there were. Margaret has worms.

Her husband uses them for bait and stores them in the fridge. We swabbed them for bacteria and took them to Mullins Lab.

The results weren't pretty.

"Well, I wasn't surprised about the worms," Margaret said. "Thank you so much for setting that straight. Jeff, they're gone."

Worms and all, our experts found this fridge is cleaner than most...but even this Type A family had some problems, the temperature issue being the worst.

"We'll probably get a new fridge," Margaret said.

So you've checked your fridge at home. But guess what? There's probably one at work too. Experts say you should check that one as well.

This time, we turned the camera on ourselves and had the inspectors evaluate the fridge here at News 12.

Right away, our experts have one word for us: gross.

"So you wouldn't put your lunch in this fridge?" we asked.

"I would not," said Amy emphatically.

Our fridge has a temperature problem and spoiled food.

"This has a date of November 30th, '06," Amy said of a bottle of salad dressing.

We found a package of spoiled meat. The bag was open, meaning it could cross-contaminate.

There was also a spill on the door, and when we swabbed it, tests revealed a lot of bacteria. The other samples we took in the News 12 fridge weren't any better. Yuck.

Here at News 12 our dirty secret is very dirty. But it's not a secret anymore.

Now that you know what's lurking in here, you can fight back and close the door on it for good.

Here's something important to remember. The expiration date isn't really an expiration date. It's a sell by date. For example, when you buy milk, it's only good for a week after you open it, even if that's days and days before the date it says on your carton.

Here are the top three things you should take away from this.

Number one: keep your refrigerator temperature at 40 degrees or below. Secondly, when in doubt, throw it out. Spoiled food can cross contaminate. And three, keep all ready-to-eat food and eggs on your top shelf.

For more information from the Food and Drug Administration, click here.

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