Let’s do this!
If you’re like most people, cleaning and organizing the fridge is not a top priority. In fact, it often falls to the back of the to-do list. But ignoring this all-important space of the house can lead to an accumulation of expired foods and/or the buildup of mold, mildew, and stinky odors. Read on to learn all about cleaning out the fridge!
Did you know…?
Many people are surprised to learn that a refrigerator’s low temperature is not enough to inhibit the growth of germs. So, taking the time to clean the refrigerator regularly is vital.
Why do it now?
Cleaning the refrigerator ahead of major holidays such as Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas is beneficial as it increases kitchen organization at a busy time of year. Moreover, it likely prevents you and your guests from eating spoiled food products that can make you sick. Cleaning the fridge ultimately allows you to sort through food products, take stock of what you have, and remove expired products before cleaning. It also helps you make room to defrost your turkey or store other holiday foods in the refrigerator.
CLEANING THE INTERIOR:
- Experts suggest that people unplug appliances like refrigerators/freezers for deep cleaning.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions as detailed in the appliance’s manual. Whenever possible stick with the cleaning products they recommend.
- Remove food contents from the refrigerator’s interior, reviewing expiration dates as you go.
- Toss expired and spoiled foods. Place what you’re keeping into a cold cooler to temporarily store food products.
- When you are done emptying the food contents, remove the shelving and drawers that easily come out. However, do wait until they get to room temperature to clean them.
- When the removable shelves and drawers reach room temperature, wash them with a mild cleanser and thoroughly dry them.
- Meanwhile, wipe down the interior walls, working top and bottom inside the refrigerator.
- Also, clean stationary drawers and shelving as you go.
- Once you’re done cleaning, be sure to rinse away cleaner residue and let the fridge interior dry.
- Once dry, return clean drawers and shelving to their rightful place.
- After cleaning the freezer, plug the appliance back in.
- Double check that the refrigerator temperature is optimal before returning food to the appliance. (Keep at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below)
A word about cleaning products
Can’t locate the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions and curious about which ones to use?
Do an online search or heed the advice of energy.gov who recommends using a mild cleanser. “When cleaning the inside of your refrigerator, look for a non-abrasive cleaner that degreases and can help kill mold, mildew, and germs.” For a refrigerator that is not super dirty, simply clean the interior with hot soapy water. Be sure to thoroughly rinse off the cleaner with a soft, damp cloth.
TOP CLEANING TIP: Use microfiber cloths for cleaning as they trap and retain dirt and absorb liquids better than most other fabrics.
PUTTING YOUR FOOD BACK INSIDE:
When returning food to the refrigerator, do so in an organized manner. Here are some tips:
- Group like items together whenever possible.
- Place vegetables in the designated vegetable drawer and fruit in the fruit drawer.
- Similarly, meats and cheeses should be given their own space.
- Use common sense. For example, rarely used taller items generally fare better when placed behind smaller more frequently used items.
- If you have an open bottle of ketchup as well as an unopened one, place the open bottle in front of the unopened one so it gets used up first.
- Use the doors for condiments rather than milk. Dairy products like milk or cream should be stored where the refrigerator is coldest.
- Make use of interior refrigerator organizers for eggs, meat, and cheese products, and more.
- Place a partially opened box of baking soda in your refrigerator. It allows particles to bond with the baking soda to neutralize odors.
CLEANING THE EXTERIOR:
Wipe down plastic handles and seals using mild dish soap and water. However, use specific cleaners when cleaning stainless steel or appliances featuring special materials.
Don’t forget to clean the condenser coils regularly using a cleaning wand. Regularly clean under the bottom of your refrigerator. This can help your fridge run better and regulate temperature optimally.
A WORD ABOUT THE FREEZER:
Since the freezer will likely be turned off when you unplug the refrigerator, it’s convenient to clean them at the same time. Similarly empty the contents and sort through, temporarily placing items you are keeping on ice in a nearby cooler. Before cleaning the interior of the freezer, allow ice and frost particles to melt. Take out removable parts like shelving. Bring them to room temperature and wipe them clean. Then wipe the interior of the freezer with cleaner and thoroughly dry. Return the removable parts that you cleaned and dried. It’s important to bring the freezer to optimal temperature before returning products to the shelves. (0 degrees F. or below is recommended)
FOOD STORAGE TIPS:
Refrigerator food safety:
- On average, leftovers generally fare well for up to three days. Most should be discarded thereafter for safety reasons.
- Likewise, open deli lunchmeat should be eaten within 3 to 5 days.
- Raw hamburger meat should be used or frozen by the refrigeration date on the packaging.
- Milk and eggs and many other products are also labeled with expiration dates.
- Some leftovers may be frozen rather than refrigerated to extend the length of time you can keep them.
Additional tip: Eyeglass wearers should keep an extra pair of glasses in a kitchen cabinet nearest the refrigerator. That way a pair of glasses is readily available for reading small print labels such as best if used by dates and food preparation instructions.
Freezer food safety:
- Generally, most frozen foods can be kept for three months in a standard freezer before showing signs of freezer burn or compromised quality.
- Freezer burn occurs when frozen food loses moisture and oxygen takes its place. These dry spots in foods may negatively affect quality and taste but do not necessarily mean that food is automatically bad or unusable.
- Color change in vegetables may indicate improper packaging or lengthy storage.
- Practice safe thawing techniques such as refrigerator or cold-water thawing.
- To make a well-educated decision on what freezer foods to safely consume, consider “best by” dates.
- If there is a minor power outage, avoid opening the freezer door. If the period is extended, add bags of ice to keep foods frozen until the power is restored.
- Per the USDA, toss freezer foods that have been warmer than 40 degrees F. for more than two hours. Likewise, discard foods that have been contaminated by raw meat juices.
- Visit the FDA for more freezer friendly tips.