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How can I remove odors from a malfunctioning refrigerator or freezer?

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When foods spoil in the refrigerator or a malfunctioning freezer, a foul odor is usually left behind. The length of time the spoiled food was left in the unit will affect how hard it will be to remove the odor. Wash the entire unit thoroughly with hot soapy water. Follow with a solution of 2 tablespoons baking soda to 1 quart water or 1 tablespoon chlorine bleach to 1 gallon water. Do not combine chemicals as you can create deadly fumes when some products are combined. Use a small brush to get into tight corners and around seals or rack pegs. After the unit is washed, leave the door open (with the unit unplugged) and let it air and dry out well. CAUTION: Be sure that the door is fixed in such a manner that a child cannot get into the unit and close the door. If the odor persists after airing, the next best thing is to move the unit so that it is in direct sunlight and let it air some more. Again, be sure the door is fixed so that it cannot be closed. The best thing to do is to remove the door from the unit. Try one of the following if airing doesn't correct the odor problem. Place a container of activated charcoal in the unit. Activated charcoal is available in the housewares department. Charcoal briquettes may work but not nearly as well. Place several paper plates containing baking soda or fresh ground coffee in the unit. Place a product designed to remove odors in the unit. Check with appliance salespeople or the hardware store for products like "Clean Air" and "Odors Away." Place an open bag of odor-controlling kitty litter in the unit. Pack each shelf with crumpled newspaper. Set a cup of water on the top shelf or sprinkle paper lightly with water. Close the unit and let it run for several days. Repack with more newspaper if this seemed to help but some odor remains. If the odors have permeated the insulation of the unit, particularly older units that have fiberglass insulation, you may never be able to remove the odor. Contact a service company to examine the appliance to see if the insulation can be replaced.

PREPARED BY: Angela M. Fraser, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Food Safety Specialist, and Carolyn J. Lackey, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N., Professor/Food and Nutrition Specialist, North Carolina State University (August 2004)

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