Do you know what’s in your refrigerator? When is the last time you cleaned it out… I mean really cleaned it out – “dug into the back corners and tossed the old bottle of ketchup” cleaned it out? It might be time!
Believe it or not, your refrigerator temperature is not low enough to stop the growth of all bacteria. (We’ve all had food go bad in there, right?) The temperature is low enough to slow down bacterial growth, but they are still living in there. And it’s our job to clean our refrigerators on a (sort of) regular basis to keep those bacteria under control! Your refrigerator works hard all day long, every day to make sure you have fresh food to eat. Don’t you think she deserves a little pampering?
Daily Refrigerator Cleaning
No, you don’t need to clean out your refrigerator every day. Goodness, who has time for that? But you do need to do some spot-checks.
If you notice any spills, wipe them up right away (or, at least, as soon as you have a spare minute). Warm water on a clean cloth is usually enough to get a fresh spill. A little bit of mild dish detergent can also help. Be careful using too much detergent or soap – that green apple scent can get left behind in your refrigerator and get absorbed by the food in there. Not so great in your leftover mac and cheese! If you really need to do a bit of scrubbing, dissolve 2 tablespoons of baking soda in 1 quart of warm water and get to work!
Give all your food a quick once-over. If you notice anything that has gone bad, toss it. Don’t leave it in there for the rest of the family to play guessing games. (I did this with milk the other day… oops… Farmer Doc did NOT appreciate that on his bowl of cereal!)
Be sure that anything you are storing in your refrigerator that might leak is on a plate, in a bowl, or in a covered container. Thawing meats often leak a bit as they reach refrigerator temperature.
Weekly Refrigerator Cleaning
Once a week, it’s a good idea to seriously go through the food in your refrigerator. Leftovers shouldn’t be kept more than three days. (We all follow that rule exactly, right?) Check dates on the packaged foods in your refrigerator. Believe it or not, ketchup and mustard don’t last forever! Not all dates on food labels mean the same thing, so brush up on label terminology here. My friend Taylor of Home Storage Solutions 101 has a great cheat sheet that lists how long different foods are good in your refrigerator. You can also find more information on how long you can store different foods over on AgriCultured. Stash a Sharpie near your refrigerator, and mark the date when you open a container. Then you’ll know if you can keep it until next week, or if it needs to be tossed!
This is also a good time to wipe down the outside of the refrigerator. The refrigerator doors can get fingerprints and splatters; the door handles can get pretty yucky (at least in my farmhouse!). Use some mild dishwashing soap on a clean rag and wipe down the outside surfaces.
Monthly Refrigerator Cleaning
Once a month (or so), you should clean the inside of your refrigerator. I know, I know… this doesn’t sound like much fun. But it’s important. Refrigerators can get downright grimy if you’re not paying attention.
One way to do this is to unplug your refrigerator. Unload everything into coolers (tossing anything that is past its prime or past the date on its package). Leave your refrigerator doors open, and let everything come up to room temperature (especially glass shelves or drawers). Take out any shelves or drawers that are removable. Wash them in your sink with a mixture of 2 tablespoons baking soda in 1 quart warm water. (Remember, using scented dish soaps can leave that scent behind.) Wipe down the inside surfaces or anything that can’t be removed with the baking soda-water mixture. Dry everything with clean towels. Then plug the refrigerator back in. Wait for it to get back down to its happy temperature, then unload your coolers.
Sound like a big job to do every month? I think so, too. So maybe save that for your big “spring cleaning” and “fall cleaning” extravaganzas.
Here’s a slightly lower maintenance way to go. On a monthly basis, pull everything off one shelf, wipe the shelf down with a baking soda-water mixture, dry it, and load your food back in. Then do the next shelf. (Of course, you’re getting rid of anything that is bad or past its date as you go.) If you’re paying attention to your daily and weekly cleaning (like wiping up spills as soon as they happen), this won’t be so bad!
So… how clean is your refrigerator? When is the last time you gave it a good scrub down? I’ll tell you my secret… it’s been way too long for mine! (Seriously… like months and months too long.) Who’s with me? The Great Refrigerator Clean Out this weekend? Let’s do it!