ABSTRACT

Increased consumer demand for convenience and ready-to-eat food, along with changes to consumer food purchase and storage practices, have resulted in an increased reliance on refrigeration to maximize food safety. Previous research suggests that many domestic refrigerators operate at temperatures exceeding recommendations; however, the results of several studies were determined by means of one temperature data point, which, given temperature fluctuation, may not be a true indicator of actual continual operating temperatures. Data detailing actual operating temperatures and the effects of consumer practices on temperatures are limited. This study has collated the time-temperature profiles of domestic refrigerators in consumer kitchens (n = 43) over 6.5 days with concurrent self-reported refrigerator usage. Overall, the findings established a significant difference (P < 0.05) between one-off temperature (the recording of one temperature data point) and mean operating temperature. No refrigerator operated at ≤5.0°C for the entire duration of the study. Mean temperatures exceeding 5.0°C were recorded in the majority (91%) of refrigerators. No significant associations or differences were determined for temperature profiles and demographics, including household size, or refrigerator characteristics (age, type, loading, and location). A positive correlation (P < 0.05) between room temperature and refrigerator temperature was determined. Reported door opening frequency correlated with temperature fluctuation (P < 0.05). Thermometer usage was determined to be infrequent. Cumulatively, research findings have established that the majority of domestic refrigerators in consumer homes operate at potentially unsafe temperatures and that this is influenced by consumer usage. The findings from this study may be utilized to inform the development of shelf-life testing based on realistic domestic storage conditions. Furthermore, the data can inform the development of future educational interventions to increase safe domestic refrigeration practices.

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