Is your refrigerator keeping its cool?

Storing animal health products at the correct temperature is one key aspect of dairy beef quality assurance (BQA) programs, because improper storage can cause products to lose their effectiveness.

Refrigeration at 35 to 45 degrees F is recommended for many products, with some exceptions based on the unique nature of each product. Most farms do a good job of keeping products refrigerated, but how often are refrigerators checked to be sure the temperature is in the right range? That question was recently investigated by University of Arkansas scientists.

Temperatures were recorded at 10-minute intervals in 191 refrigerators representing all styles and ages from less than five to over 15 years and located in a variety of environments from kitchens to the area near cattle-handling facilities. Only 27 percent of refrigerators maintained a temperature between 35 and 45 F during more than 95 percent of the 48-hour test period (the BQA goal). Even worse, 24 percent of refrigerators maintained that temperature for less than 5 percent of the test period. Refrigerator type and age did not affect ability to keep a constant temperature, but location was important. Refrigerators in a temperature-controlled environment appeared to be beneficial.

How long has it been since you temped your refrigerator? The thermostat may need to be adjusted, or perhaps you need to do some general maintenance. Tom Troxel, one of the study's authors, offers the following tips for improving refrigerator performance:

  • Vacuum vents and coils. Dusty coils have to work harder to cool the refrigerator.
  • Clean the drip pan beneath the refrigerator.
  • Clean the drain of auto-defrost models. To clear the drain tube, remove the stopper and insert a pipe cleaner into the opening; flush with soapy water, then empty and clean the pan.
  • Wash gaskets that seal the doors with soapy water. Occasionally, test gasket condition by attempting to slide a sheet of paper between the seal and the refrigerator wall. If the paper slips in, the seal is not tight enough, and the gasket needs to be replaced.
  • Do not position a refrigerator or freezer in direct contact with hot appliances, as this will make the compressor work harder.
  • Regularly defrost manual-defrost freezers to keep frost build-up under 0.25 inch.