Household refrigerators are a potential pathogen contamination source for foods. An evaluation of the microbiological safety of 200 refrigerators in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, was made by visual inspection, ATP-bioluminescence levels, indicator microorganisms including Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus, and the presence of Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella. Additionally, interviews of the owners of the refrigerators were carried out to determine relationships between food storage practices, demographic aspects, and microbiological status. Dishcloths used to clean refrigerators were also analyzed. Operational conditions (cleanliness, fullness, organization, frequency of cleaning, and temperature) were evaluated by trained observers. Results showed deficient cleanliness in 55% of refrigerators, 22% were completely full, 43% very disorganized, 28% were usually cleaned only once in 3 to 6 months, and 53% had internal temperatures >7.1°C. ATP-bioluminescence levels were >300 relative light units on 67 and 74% of shelves and drawers, respectively, indicating that surfaces were dirty according to the luminometer manufacturer. Psychrotrophic aerobic bacteria counts on shelves, drawers, and dishcloths were 6.3, 5.2, and 6.3 log CFU/cm2; for coliform bacteria, 5.2, 3.9, and 4.7 CFU/cm2; for E. coli, 3.7, 3.5, and 4.8 CFU/cm2; and for Staphylococcus aureus, 2.1, 2.5, and 2.3 CFU/cm2, respectively. L. monocytogenes and Salmonella were isolated from 59.5, 20.5, and 17% and 32.5, 8.0 and 12.5% of shelves, drawers, and dishcloths, respectively. Four Salmonella serotypes and nine serogroups (partially serotyped isolates) were identified. The most prevalent were Salmonella Anatum (39.5%), Salmonella group E1 (19.7%), and Salmonella group E1 monophasic (12.5%). Operational conditions and microbiological status were clearly deficient in sampled refrigerators, highlighting the consequent risk of foodborne disease among users. Educational programs are needed to improve the domestic food safety in Mexico.

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