A refrigerator breaks down and gross liquid seeps from beneath.

What To Do When Your Freezer or Refrigerator Breaks Down

A refrigerator breaks down and gross liquid seeps from beneath.
Biohazardous liquid seeping from underneath a failed refrigerator unit Alabama Bio-Clean, technicians were called to clean in a home..

Two of the most important pieces of equipment in a home or business are refrigerators and freezers. These appliances allow our food and beverages to be stored at the appropriate temperatures, either extending the expirations via freezing or ensuring present freshness, but most importantly, keeping items safe for consumption.

But, when a freezer or refrigerator breaks down, they are like a ticking time bomb, quickly on their way to becoming a biohazard in a home or business. Left unattended, food begins to break down and odors seep into the seams and surfaces of the appliance — and that’s only the first biohazard.

Refrigerators are essential in the modern American household, but when it comes to cleaning, they are frequently ignored. Food that is left to go bad in a refrigerator has the potential to spread germs that can affect all the food stored there. It is believed that this is one of the reasons why the Whirlpool Corporation introduced and began promoting “Clean Out Your Fridge” week, which eventually morphed into National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day held annually on November 15.

As a biohazard cleaning and remediation company offering failed freezer cleanup and odor removal services, Alabama Bio-Clean, has seen its fair share of the gross filth, mold and smelly food situations that these appliance failures can cause if left unattended. We encourage you to stay vigilant and act fast if your freezer or refrigerator goes out and, if all else fails, especially during these food-heavy holidays that are upon us, call a professional to clean and sanitize the scene.

Here are a few of our tips for avoiding a failed freezer or refrigerator and what to do if it happens to you.

Signs Your Freezer or Refrigerator Are About to Die

There are many circumstances that can beget a failed freezer or refrigerator. The most common reasons this can happen could include:

  1. A power outage in your area
  2. Unit failure due to its age
  3. Too much food stuffed inside

POWER OUTAGES. If you experience a power outage in your area due to a storm or other natural disaster, remember the four-hour rule. The Cleveland Clinic recommends that if the power is out for less than four hours, and you have limited the number of times you’ve opened the fridge or freezer, your food should be in the clear.

However, if your power is out for longer than four hours at a time, you’ll need to make some judgment calls. If the temperature in your appliance goes above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours, you should throw out meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, dairy products, eggs, cooked or cut produce and cooked leftovers.

The reason these foods must be thrown out is that warmer temperatures can cause harmful bacteria to grow that could result in a foodborne illness if consumed. Moving perishable items from the fridge like meat, poultry and leftovers into the freezer while the power is out can help ensure they’ll stay at a safer temperature for longer.

UNIT FAILURE DUE TO AGE. How do you know when it’s time to buy a new refrigerator? Just like living beings, appliances also have a limited lifespan. If your fridge or freezer is more than 10 years old, you could begin to see signs that your appliance is about to die. If you’re not sure when the unit was purchased, check your unit for a sticker that should contain the manufacture date.

A few signs your freezer or refrigerator is about to go kaput could include food in your refrigerator spoiling before its expiration date; being able to hear your refrigerator’s motor; the back of the fridge feeling hot; an increase in your electric bill; and/or seeing constant condensation or frost inside the unit.

TOO MUCH FOOD STUFFED INSIDE. Even food needs personal space. As tempting as it might be to pack every shelf with those delicious holiday leftovers, overcrowding your fridge could lead to some costly problems. If your fridge or freezer is overflowing, airflow from the vents could be blocked, which causes the unit’s condenser and ventilator motor to have to work harder to cool the food items. This eventually will lead to burnout or various parts of the unit needing to be replaced.

How A Failed Freezer or Fridge Can Create Biohazards in Your Home

Bugs found inside a failed refrigerator Alabama Bio-Clean, was called to clean up.

Spoiled food is the number one cause for concern inside a failed freezer or refrigerator. Within a few hours of food spoiling, bacteria or parasites can begin to grow. At Alabama Bio-Clean, we often encounter food that has decomposed to the point of liquefying and seeping into the cracks and crevices of a client’s fridge or freezer, a situation that is infinitely more hazardous and difficult to clean up.

The most common bacteria, viruses and parasites found in food include Bacillus cereus, Clostridium perfringens, E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Staphylococcus, Trichinella and Norovirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year in the U.S., more than 250 foodborne diseases (just like these) make 48 million of us ill, leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

In addition, it’s not often possible to simply see signs that a food item is spoiled. Some pathogens in food, such as E. coli, can make you very sick, but it doesn’t make food taste, smell or look bad in any way, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Another common biohazard of a failed freezer or fridge is mold. It might take a freezer two days or less to fully defrost, but mold can grow in as little as 24 hours after the unit breaks down.

Simple Tips for Getting Rid of Freezer or Refrigerator Odors

Odors that develop when food spoils in a failed freezer or refrigerator can be difficult to remove. Here is a step-by-step solution to eliminate odors from spoiled food that you can try on your own.

  • Dispose of all spoiled or questionable food.
  • Remove all other food items, and clean the inside of the freezer or fridge, including doors and bins, with a mild cleaning solution of dish soap and water. You can also try a solution of two tablespoons of baking soda and four cups of warm water.
  • Rinse with a sanitizing solution (such as 1 tablespoon unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water)
  • Unplug the appliance and leave the door open for about 15 minutes to allow free air circulation.

According to the USDA, if odors still persist after this, you can try these additional steps:

  • Wipe inside the unit with equal parts vinegar and water.
  • Leave the door open and allow it to air for several days.
  • Sprinkle fresh coffee grounds or baking soda loosely in a large, shallow container in the bottom of the freezer or refrigerator.
  • Place a cotton swab soaked with vanilla inside the refrigerator and freezer for 24 hours.

If nothing you have tried removes the odor from the failed freezer or refrigerator, it might be time to call a professional.

BEFORE: A failed refrigerator, containing a biohazardous situation that included a bug infestation.
AFTER: The clean, disinfected and sanitized refrigerator after Alabama Bio-Clean, technicians were called in to help.

Alabama Bio-Clean, Technicians Can Remove All Traces of Odors from a Failed Freezer or Fridge

In only a few short hours, our biohazard remediation technicians can quickly remove any spoiled food and sanitize a failed freezer or fridge and remove all traces of foul odors from your home or business. Using industry-grade cleaners and disinfectants, we will eliminate any potential health risks.

We will start the cleanup by assessing the situation. We’ll remove all hazardous materials from the appliance and dispose of it, being careful to prevent the spread of contaminants, especially if we’re in a home. Finally, we’ll clean, disinfect and deodorize the freezer or refrigerator.

Though we’re committed to leaving your home or business with a more pleasant smell than what there was when you called us for help, our immediate thoughts are always for the safety of your family and others. If you find yourself needing cleanup and odor removal for a failed freezer, don’t hesitate to reach out to us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-866-305-8001.