If you thought grabbing a bite of last night’s delicious home-cooked meal was a safer bet than ordering out, you thought wrong. Going by the findings of the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) in Hyderabad, many households are unaware of the microbial contamination that takes place within refrigerators.

The study notes that only 20 per cent of the respondents had knowledge of the optimal operational temperatures of refrigerators, and 74 per cent reported that they stored cooked leftover food for more than 24 hours. This, experts say, allows more microbes to enter the food.

The study noted a significant association between education and knowledge as well as practices among households. Salmonella spp. (44.4%), E. coli (27.7%), Faecal coliforms (11.1%) and S. aureus (5.5%) were detected in refrigerated leftover foods.

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Dr Shashi Latha, head of the department of Urban Nutrition at Fernandes Hospital, said: “Most households are not aware of safe storage and refrigeration practices. People lack awareness about cooling food.

Nowadays, most people cook in the morning, wait for it to cool naturally and then put it in the fridge. Then it is warmed up in portions. This will leave ample time for a microbe to contaminate the food.” She also warned against heating up portions as required and storing the rest. “Usually people take a portion of the food from the refrigerator and then put the leftover back in the fridge. This leads to bacterial formation. The temperature shift aids in the growth of bacteria,” said Dr Latha.

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During the study, it was noticed that in most households, food is either not covered properly or left open inside refrigerators. Some people thought that food would become odourless, tasteless and inedible if it was not covered but very few were able to associate it with cross-contamination. In almost every household, raw foods and cooked foods were kept side by side on the same shelf.

The study also learnt that in some households, the food containers were not properly covered and also spoons were not removed from the containers; in all houses foods were contentedly placed in all shelves especially on market days. The roots of leafy vegetables were not cut and also roots protruded out of the polythene covers and in a few houses raw fish was kept in the freezer for several days, that too in a single door. #KhabarLive