Antibacterial linings in fridges are no substitute for regular cleaning

Foods are stored in a fridge to ensure they stay "fresh" longer. This is possible because the growth of many bacteria and moulds is inhibited at temperatures below 7° C. But that doesn’t stop them from multiplying nor does it apply to all germs. Some micro-organisms, so-called psychrophiles, feel particularly at home at fridge temperatures. That’s why it is important to clean fridges regularly. "The anti-bacterial finish offered in a growing number of products doesn’t change that either", says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). He refutes the claim by manufacturers that this finish reduces the bacterial load. BfR has assessed the hygiene impact and the benefits of linings of this kind for consumers. The result: a surface finish containing silver compounds does not offer any additional protection from germs.  It does not do away with the need to clean the appliance or to comply with general hygiene rules when handling food. Even fridges with an anti-bacterial lining should, therefore, be regularly cleaned with water and conventional cleaning products.

According to the information available to the Institute, silver compounds are the ones most commonly used in anti-microbial finishes. They release silver ions. BfR is not the only body to challenge whether the release of these ions from the fridge lining leads to effective disinfectant action. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is also of the opinion that a positive effect on food safety under practical conditions has not been proved up to now.

Besides the question of efficacy, there is also the matter of the safety of the anti-bacterial finish. More silver ions could migrate from the lining to the food stored in the fridge than would be considered desirable from the angle of consumer health protection. To prevent this from happening, the European Food Safety Authority has proposed limiting the migration of silver to food to 0.05 milligram per kilogram.

The conclusion of BfR: No negative impact on the health of consumers is to be expected from the anti-bacterial lining of fridges as long as this limit value is complied with. There is no scientific evidence of beneficial effects.

Beyond fridge linings, BfR is generally of the opinion that the use of antibacterial agents in the home is superfluous particularly as they can easily lull consumers into a false sense of security. Improving personal hygiene and meticulously handling foods are far more effective ways of avoiding food infections. Conventional cleaning methods with water and, if necessary, with a fat or protein-removing agent, suffice to reduce soiling to a safe level.

Further information on this subject can be accessed in german on the Institute’s website on under Lebensmittel/Lebensmittelsicherheit, Mikrobielle Risiken.

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