A few years ago, I was in Reno overnight for work and wanted to save my delicious dinner leftovers for breakfast. But when I opened the mini refrigerator in my room, my first reaction was, "That feels too warm!" I did not save the leftovers and made alternative plans for breakfast. Since then, I've wondered how common an unsafe hotel refrigerator might be.
The pandemic delayed my research as travel was out of the question for a while. This year, I had the opportunity to test my question when I traveled up the coast from California to Washington and back home again on vacation. I stayed in a variety of places, perfect for my casual research project. My trusty refrigerator thermometer came with me. The results: mixed!
Of the five hotels I stayed in:
- One in-room refrigerator was too warm to store food safely overnight.
- Two were too cold. One was so cold, it froze the beverage I placed inside. Not optimal, but better than food poisoning!
- Two tested perfectly in the safe zone for food storage.
The score: One out of five refrigerators in my unscientific study was unsafe. One in five is not great odds.
The Ideal Refrigerator Temperature
A temperature range of 33 F to 40 F is ideal. Refrigeration in this range slows the growth of microorganisms, including bacteria. Safe food-handling practices advise that food should be held for no more than two hours above 40 F. Keeping food overnight above that temperature could have serious consequences, meaning storing food in hotel refrigerators that are not 40o F or below for more than two hours can have serious consequences.
Stay Safe When You Travel
Here are three ideas to help you avoid problems when you travel:
1) Measure. Take a refrigerator thermometer with you if you plan to use the in-room mini refrigerator. There's nothing like data to let you know the refrigerator is at the right temperature. Refrigerator thermometers are readily available at grocery and hardware stores, and online.
2) Avoid. Consider not storing anything that might spoil in your hotel refrigerator if you do not know the temperature setting. Cooling sealed canned beverages would be fine. At worst, your beverage will not be as cool as you hoped, but because it's sealed, nothing will spoil.
3) Take a quality cooler. Since I was driving, I took my cooler, one that holds appropriate temperatures for days. Traveling with a ready supply of ice, beverages and confidence that my groceries were held safely below 40 F was lovely. This solution is not for every trip, and of course, you need to replenish the ice as you go.
As you plan your future travel, I wish you a safe journey and a skeptical mindset on the safety of your hotel refrigerator for food storage.
Do you have any questions about safe food storage? You can find your local UC Master Food Preserver program or submit questions at http://mfp.ucanr.edu. You can also sign up to be notified of upcoming online food preservation classes.