OCD: Contamination: Refrigerator (Topic#020)

A Little Rain

A Little Rain

I wanted to share a little snippet about contamination OCD as long as this is on my mind. I offended someone yesterday, which is why I’m thinking about it.

I have a thing about food. This is probably one of my more obnoxious OCD things. I have no trust for the food inside of a refrigerator. I won’t even open them 90% of the time. If I’m going to eat food, it basically has to be served to me. Even when I do open the fridge, it is only to grab out my soy milk, which I go through fast enough to avoid spoilage, or a carrot. I’ll avoid touching anything else in there.

I eat leftovers. But they have to be within three days of creation. I’m more lenient with soy milk – I’ll let them go past their expiration dates so long as I don’t see any chunks. But the “bottom” of anything grosses me out. I’m very anxious when I eat jam at the bottom of the jar, even if I just purchased it a month ago and the expiration date is a year forward.

It’s pretty amazing if I serve myself food from a fridge. But I get anxious about being served food from a fridge, too, if I don’t personally recall when the food was purchased or created. Like I said, it really has to be within the three days.

So yesterday I was served some leftover rice from the fridge. I can’t remember when the last time rice was made, so the conversation went about like this:

Me: “How old is that?” (in hindsight, that probably could have been worded more gently)
You: “What do you mean, how old is that?”
Me: “I just can’t remember when we had rice, that’s all.”
You: “Do you think I’d SERVE you spoiled rice???”
Me: “It’s nothing personal. It’s an OCD thing. I have to ask.” (I think I warned you about how I’d always ask this when I first started living here)
You: “That’s bullshit” (you don’t accept psych speak) “It’s 2 days old. Do you think I’d have spoiled rice in my fridge?” (Well, actually I’ve thrown away some moldy stuff from there before, so technically…)
[Pause for a couple of minutes]
Me: “You’re going to get so mad at me.”
You: “Huh? Why?”
Me: “Because I’ll always ask this. It’s going to get super annoying.”
You: “No, I won’t get mad at you.”

But uh, yes, yes you will. It’s been six months of having me ask you this question about food at least 3 or 4 times a week, and it annoyed the hell out of you last night. So project six more months down the road…? Oh well.

Bugged the hell out of my ex husband, too, let me tell you. Because I pretty much won’t stop worrying about the food until I’ve seen you actually LOOK at it closely and/or SNIFF it closely. And even taste it, preferably.

I think part of the problem is that, contrary to what many people have tried to convince me of over the years, I CAN’T always tell myself when something has gone bad. I’ve eaten bad things before. I typically don’t smell when something is ‘off’ and I can’t tell by sight unless there is visible mold. I even made my mom a birthday cake and an entire batch of birthday cupcakes with rancid peanut oil (I couldn’t find the vegetable oil…) but I didn’t know the oil was bad. Everything had to be thrown away because it was so rancid and had stunk up the whole house. But I hadn’t noticed the oil was bad myself. That was in high school.

Oh, and I also won’t touch food if it sat out for more than four hours. Which really freaking annoys some people.

If something does go moldy in the fridge, then I feel like all foods must be washed again, because I feel like the spores have blown throughout the fridge.

I’ll branch out here a tiny bit and tell you also that I have a killer time touching raw eggs (shells too) and raw meat. I basically don’t even try to cook anymore. I have trouble placing my hands into dish water that contains a plate with raw meat juices or anything (even if it’s soapy). But, you know, I have compromised skin on my hands. I frequently have eczema there and I can imagine the little bacteria or whatever getting into my skin cracks and taking up residency in my body… Anyway.

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8 thoughts on “OCD: Contamination: Refrigerator (Topic#020)

  1. Thank you so much, Greg. I am lucky that mine seems to be mild in that I can work with it somewhat. What I’m not sure is if that’s due to things I’ve learned over the years, or if it’s just due to the medicine I’m on.

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  2. I actually have the same thing. I think mine is a bit different, though, and I am wondering if anyone can point me in the direction of some help. Actually, I say I want help, but then I think about not caring as much, and it makes me sick. Well, here it goes…

    I, too, won’t eat things past the three day mark. Bread is an especially hard one for me. I always think I am eating moldy bread. I think this comes from elementary school when my dad would make me sandwiches, and sometimes he would unknowingly use moldy bread. He didn’t know, and even if he did, he is one of those people who just cut off the moldy part. Ahhhh! Bless his heart. Sometimes perfectly fresh bread even has that “moldy” taste- or at least what I think is a moldy taste.

    Milk is a little better. I tend to be fine with milk as long as it is within a few days before the expiration date. I can’t ever drink milk on the expiration date. No way.

    I also have a weird thing about the fridge. The bottom fruit drawers seem dirty to me. They could be perfectly clean, but it’s something about the fruit being in those dark drawers.

    I also don’t like putting anything on the bottom shelf. It’s open and frosted from the precipitation, and it just seems gross. If I were to pick up a package of meat from that shelf and it be a little wet on the bottom from the precipitation, forget it!

    Now on to the kitchen in general. I don’t like using my cutting boards. I always feel like they are dirty. I think my issue is dust and food particles. Most people don’t want germs, but mine is more thinking I am eating moldy food particles. I bought to most sealed wood cutting boards I could find, but I still have to wash the boards numerous times before use.

    I feel the same way about the kitchen counters. I can never get them clean enough.

    The oven, too. I look at it as cooking old food particles into new food. I don’t think I can do it.

    Lastly, the toaster. I never feel like I have gotten all the bread particles out of the toaster. I always worry I am toasting the old bread onto my new bread.

    It seems like many others with OCD get better once they do a cleaning ritual, but I actually feel even worse. I feel like all I have done is bring all the moldy food to the surface.

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    • Hi Ash,
      Thanks for the comment! I’m sorry you experience such similar issues, although at the same time, I get pretty excited any time I meet someone who understands!

      As for being able to offer help, I can say there are definitely resources out there that you might find helpful, but maybe finding a professional you can speak with about it face-to-face would be useful? There are certain books and visualizations that help me for some OCD aspects, too.

      I am no professional but I did have some random thoughts of my own that I personally find useful & can share below. I am personally a firm believer in “work-arounds”:

      Bread: Have you tried keeping your bread in the freezer? I do this because it seems like the gluten-free breads I eat go bad quickly. My boyfriend likes to keep his bread in the freezer anyway, because he likes fresh, non-stale bread. It doesn’t hurt the texture/quality of the bread to freeze it, happily. I take out the slices I want and heat them on the stove, or in the oven, or in a microwave, or toaster if I had them. For microwave, I wrap them in a small piece of paper towel to absorb any moisture that might come out.

      Milk: I’ve always heard that freezing cow milk doesn’t change the texture, too! So you could even buy bulk milk, freeze it in smaller portions, and just thaw them as you go through them.

      The Fridge: I know, right?!!! They’re so gross-feeling. And I think you nailed it — it’s the moisture / precipitation that gets in there that really makes it feel yuck. You know, something that helps me lately is to place some paper towels down on the drawer before setting down any fruit/veggies. And changing out the paper towel any time it seems to be getting damp. You could probably be more environmentally-friendly by using a clean, absorbent rag or something, and washing it every week or however often as necessary.

      Lately, it’s helping me a lot that my boyfriend and his roommate don’t keep much in the fridge! So it has been easy for me to keep up on what’s still fresh, versus what needs to be tossed. There are only ever maybe 3 different vegetables in the fridge at a time, for example. And I keep the lettuce wrapped in a paper towel, and set the carrots on a paper towel. And the drawer has actually “felt” very clean. OH! Also, the drawer doesn’t shut 100% of the way! Having it feel more “open” has helped prevent me from getting grossed out about the drawer, too!

      I’m going to submit this comment and continue in another comment (in case this browser window crashes, I don’t want to lose all of these thoughts).

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    • Meats: I can’t help you on that one. Picking up a packet of (cooked? uncooked?) meat that is wet on the bottom? ::shudder:: I’m going to go through an entire roll of paper towels in these comments… What about keeping the meat package on a paper towel, too, so you never have to pick it up and have it be wet on the bottom? Or seal up an open package of meat within a baggy or tupperware, to keep the moisture to itself?

      Cutting boards: Some people keep separate cutting boards for each task, such as a designated meat board, but that wouldn’t help if your feelings are more toward previous food particles getting onto the current food. Maybe if you had multiple, small cutting boards, you could chop each item on a separate board and then run them all through the dishwasher afterward, if you have one. Or maybe a good scrubby pad, but one that is non-scratch, so it won’t remove the sealed surface of your board.

      Oven & toaster: I think I know what you mean, because I really loathe using anybody else’s oven or toaster! When I think of putting my food into a sealed unit and I don’t know how they clean / *IF* they clean, etc… Then my own food feels contaminated. But for my own unit, I suppose there are things I can do if it feels gross to me. Like for your oven, do you run the self-clean cycle? That should help burn up any old food particles. You can also keep a thin pan on the bottom shelf of the oven whenever you’re using the oven, to catch any crumbs or drippings, and then clean that pan after use. Then your oven itself won’t be dirty.

      I also dump the crumbs out of a toaster frequently, because I worry they will grow mold spores otherwise, that could then contaminate what I’m toasting. But I don’t worry much about the bits stuck to the burners themselves, since they are frequently getting “sterilized” by the burners. I’m not sure how to make those feel “clean”. Maybe don’t use a toaster but use a toaster-oven instead. Those trays pull out and you can scrub them down if they have food bits on them.

      Counters: I wish I had thoughts that help. I wash my boyfriend’s kitchen counters down once each night, sometimes twice. His roommate has two cats that love to walk around on the counters, so these counters will never actually be or feel clean, so my goal is just for it to be clean for a moment, anyway. For my nightly cleaning, I just use hot water and a supposedly “natural” type dish soap, because if the cats lick it, I don’t want them to get sick. Please let me know how you end up getting your counter cleaning anxiety to go down. I am very curious what can help that!

      Please note, none of my comments help OCD itself!! My only thoughts are for “work-arounds” that can help me go about my day without the anxieties eating at me. It doesn’t help the OCD itself. But I am happy if I can go through a chore without excessive anxiety coming up at me, or without having to do something excessively “abnormal” that would cause those around me to look at me funny. I call those days a success.

      Best wishes & thank you again for your comment. Please feel free to keep me updated. I am very curious if you end up finding something to help the actual OCD itself, and how you deal with your daily kitchen anxieties.

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    • I didn’t know this, but I just looked up ways of dehumidifying a fridge — and you can actually purchase a dehumidifier or desiccant for the fridge! For real!

      There are also the boxes of baking soda you can buy to place in a fridge. It is advertised more for odor absorption, but I imagine it would also help with moisture.

      Come to think of it, next time you clean your cutting board, adding a pinch of baking soda and scrubbing might help it “feel” more clean / less old food. ? Just brainstorming.

      Good luck!

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  3. That helps a ton. The idea that the bread pieces stuck on the burner are essentially being sanitized by it. Also, using baking soda on the cutting boards sounds amazing! I totally understand what you mean by work-arounds. For me, it isn’t necessarily about it being cleaner, but that I feel it’s cleaner. Does that make sense? Baking soda probably won’t make my already scrubbed cutting boards that much cleaner, but I’ll feel as though it does.

    I’ll post on here if I see anything else like the fridge dehumidifier. Refreshing to hear that I’m not completely alone!

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