Will freon poison my food?
February 14, 2009 1:20 PM   Subscribe

I punctured the freon line in a GE minifridge. Is the food safe to eat?

My roommate (a Chemistry major) is trying to convince me that the food in the fridge (below the freezing unit; freon sinks) is now poisoned. Is he right? Sources would be appreciated. All I've got right now is this which doesn't look terrifically credible.
posted by Picklegnome to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
i would imagine so, just don't inhale it
posted by geos at 1:32 PM on February 14, 2009

EPA says bad:
Freon 113 enters the body when breathed in with contaminated air or when consumed with contaminated food or water.

But the folks over at the Department of Energy's Ask a Scientist says it's not the freon that is the problem, but the oils added to the freon that will get you.

Decisions, decisions.
posted by zenon at 1:40 PM on February 14, 2009

Until a chemistry expert comes along, it appears to me that Freon (more likely it's HFC) never condenses into a liquid or solid at typical fridge or room temperatures, so I have some reservations about its ability to affect the food. Also a perusal of the Internet suggests HFCs have low toxicity except when inhalated in concentration. It looks like the dangers mainly surround systems that use ammonia.

Found this: "As far as the odor being toxic and your mother afraid to eat the food out of it, rest assured it isn't. There is nothing toxic manufactured into refrigerators, even the refrigerant itself. I can also tell you that I have never heard of any reports or concerns on potential toxic substances developing in the normal use of domestic refrigerators or freezers from any medical, environmental, or scientific source." -- source, for what it's worth

On the other had there's stories like this about refrigerants in general, but stuff like that looks very alarmist and unscientific to me.

But as far as I'm concerned, there's never a reason to take a chance with my health.
posted by crapmatic at 1:49 PM on February 14, 2009

The National Institute of Health's Medlineplus has an article titled Refrigerant poisoning that you might want to read:

"Alternative Names: ... Sudden sniffing death syndrome"

I don't know whether this only applies to freon, or to its modern replacements, but personally, I'd toss the food.
posted by zippy at 3:43 PM on February 14, 2009

How much food could possibly be in a mini fridge? Definitely not enough to risk endangering your health over.
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:35 PM on February 14, 2009

If you're asking from a hypothetical point of view, it looks like (from links above and searching google) it probably isn't a problem.

But if you're really asking if you should eat it, why would you take the chance for the small quantity of food that's in your minifridge? Just toss the contents.
posted by Simon Barclay at 8:08 PM on February 14, 2009

This is not like eating a sandwich that you left on the counter overnight. Toss the food already.
posted by zerobyproxy at 10:50 AM on February 15, 2009

Home refrigerants aren't poisonous. Being heavier than air they can displace oxygen in your lungs but even then death would be from asphyxiation not poison. They won't condense at room temperatures and pressure so they won't contaminate your food.

Most modern refrigeration lubricants are also safe (some are plain mineral oil). The oil is usually contained within the freezing compartment (I almost never saw punctures on the outside) in which case the oil is unlikely to have touched food below.

Besides your exposure during the initial puncture was undoubtedly several orders of magnitude greater than anything your food could possibly be harbouring.

Simon Barclay writes "why would you take the chance for the small quantity of food that's in your minifridge"

They had a few pounds of Russian caviar or some plant with similar mass:value ratios in there?
posted by Mitheral at 7:20 PM on February 19, 2009

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