A smelly refrigerator isn't just unpleasant; it could be a health hazard. Nearly everything inside your refrigerator is intended to be eaten, but contaminants that cause odours can also foul your food. Be scrupulous with routine cleaning to help prevent odours before they start. Encourage others in your household to help by attending to messes when they happen rather than leaving them for someone else. A clean refrigerator is a healthy one.
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The most common cause of refrigerator odour is spoiled food. Spoilage bacteria is one of the two categories of bacteria found in refrigerated food, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Spoilage bacteria isn't likely to cause serious illness and resulting odours are usually disagreeable enough to prevent someone from eating the spoiled food. Pathogenic bacteria can be harmful, but usually have no odour. Sometimes food items expire much quicker than expected, especially meat and dairy products. Leftovers are often abandoned, hidden behind a milk jug and eventually forgotten until they spoil. Look for spilt sauces, milk and any other foods containing liquids that could spill or leak. Spills can run under other food containers, into channels along shelves and puddle at the bottom of the unit. The refrigerator isn't the only spot to check for smelly food; freezer burn can cause a strong odour that may transfer from the freezer into the refrigerator compartment.
Most refrigerators have a dripping pan or other device for collecting excess condensation. The dripping pan is usually situated beneath the refrigerator and slides in or out on rails. It may be accessed from the front, sides or back, so if you cannot locate it from one side, try from the others. Stagnant water has a foul odour that is distinguishable from spoiled food. Most dripping pans are as wide as the refrigerator, but they are also shallow and difficult to manoeuvre without spilling the water. Carefully slide the pan out, remove the water and sanitise the pan before replacing it. Drain flies may breed in stagnant water under refrigerators, which makes sanitising even more important.
Mildew and Mold
Gaskets, which are the flexible strips that help doors seal when closed, are a common location of mildew. The telltale sign of mildew is black spots. If it has gone unchecked for a long time, the whole gasket may be black. Refrigerators with drawers on the bottom are especially prone to mould growth since water and other spills may collect under the drawers. Drain hoses are another source for mould and mildew. Hoses are usually found on the back of a refrigerator running from top to bottom and draining into the dripping pan. Food particles from the freezer can lodge inside, blocking the drain and providing a breeding area for odours. Mold and mildew stains can be lightened or removed with chlorine bleach, but bleach does not kill mould, explains expert Bob Vila. Commercial chemical preparations are required. Blocked drain hoses should be cleaned by a professional to prevent damage to the unit.
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