CONSUMERS are being warned to avoid buying flammable plastic-backed fridges, freezers and fridge freezers, which may still be on sale, despite an effective ban from today.

Stringent new tests effectively prohibit fire-risk models from being manufactured from today.

But the Office for Product Safety and Standards is yet to confirm if any measures are in place to stop existing products from being sold in shops.

And the consumer organisation Which? warn that retailers are expected to be allowed to keep selling plastic-backed appliances to get rid of existing stock.

The London Fire Brigade and Electrical Safety First have previously warned about the dangers of the backing material. The Grenfell Tower fire started in a fridge freezer with flammable plastic backing, and an electrical fire expert stated in a report for the inquiry that plastic casing is combustible and will contribute to the spread of a fire.

READ MORE: Fire risk as safety checks for fridges and freezers inadequate

Tests by Which? in February found that the plastic backing used on some fridges and freezers can be highly flammable and, in the event of a domestic fire, can accelerate the spread of flames.

It has since been calling on retailers including AO.Com, Argos and Currys PC World to remove such white goods from sale as a matter of urgency.

Last year it published a list of “don’t buy” models, which included some from manufacturers including AEG, Kenwood, Hotpoint, Smeg, Candy, Hotpoint, Zanussi, Indesit, Whirlpool, Hoover, Bush and Ikea.

The consumer champion has campaigned for a change to the safety standard for the appliances since 2017, after its testing found plastic backing can be extremely flammable and, in the event of a house fire, can dramatically accelerate the spread of flames.

When Which? tested fridge freezers by setting them alight, a plastic-backed model was engulfed in flames and pumping out toxic black smoke within a minute. In comparison, a metal-backed fridge was able to contain the spread of the fire for far longer, and it was almost 10 minutes before the flames had to be put out.

READ MORE: 70 fires a month are caused by household appliances

The consumer group said: "We believe that this is unacceptable due to the safety risk the products potentially pose, and retailers should remove any remaining models from sale immediately."

The testing for the previous standard involved putting a hot wire through a sample of the fridge or freezer backing material and seeing if it caught alight. Because the plastic melted, rather than ignited, it was deemed safe.

Under the new, more realistic standard, a product will be required to withstand a naked flame for 30 seconds, and demonstrate that it can sufficiently prevent flames reaching the flammable insulation as a result.

But Which? say that as there is currently no legal restriction on how long retailers can sell products that passed the previous standard, consumers could still be exposed to these potentially unsafe appliances for many months to come.

A Which? spokesman said: "Fires due to refrigeration faults are rare, and the material used in the backing allows an existing fire to spread, rather than causing the fire itself. However, although the numbers of such products on the market are expected to be small, Which? is warning people planning to buy new refrigeration products to avoid any models that have flammable plastic backing by checking before they buy."

Natalie Hitchins, the organisation's head of home products and services added: “These fire-risk products have been banned in the US for years, so new standards that will ensure they can no longer be manufactured for sale in the UK are long overdue. But it is deeply concerning that retailers may continue to sell these potentially dangerous models for many months to get rid of existing stock.

“If you are looking to buy a new fridge freezer, make sure you are vigilant and don’t buy one with plastic backing. Retailers with any stock that was produced to the old standard should make the safety of their customers the number one priority and take them off sale immediately.”

Assistant Chief Officer Ross Haggart,  Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s director of prevention and protection said: “We are absolutely committed to reducing the occurrence of electrical fires in the home and keeping communities safe.

“We would encourage the public to register their domestic appliances to ensure that they are kept up to date with product recall information and manufacturers safety advice.”