Spring Cleaning for Your Refrigerator
Spring is here and many people have begun their annual spring cleaning. Whether you have already started or are still in the planning process, one important area to focus on is the kitchen. Keeping your kitchen clean is not only important in keeping out the visible pests, but also the microscopic ones. Harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness survive on kitchen surfaces if not kept clean and sanitized. Even the refrigerator can become a source of contamination for food if not properly maintained.
You may find that you are not overly concerned about the temperature of your refrigerator unless it feels noticeably warmer. But, do you know the actual temperature of that cold air? Keeping your refrigerator set at or below 40 degrees F not only helps reduce the growth of harmful bacteria, but it may also help in reducing food waste due to food spoiling quicker at higher temperatures. Most refrigerators do not have a built-in thermometer, but a free standing one can be purchased at most grocery or hardware stores.
Once you know that your refrigerator is kept at the right temperature, it’s a good idea to sort through what foods are still good and which ones should be tossed. Check the expiration dates, especially on items like condiments. A good rule of thumb is “when in doubt, throw it out.” You may find some mystery leftovers in the way back that you don’t remember when you made. A great way to prevent this in the future is to label containers with the name of the dish and when you prepared it. Another helpful tip is to clean-out the fridge each week before grocery shopping. Not only will it keep it smelling fresh, but it will also help in creating a list of what foods you need for the upcoming week.
As you are sorting through items, you may also notice some spills. Wipe up any spills with hot soapy water and paper towels. Even though the surfaces now appear clean, they should also be sanitized to reduce and kill harmful bacteria. Remove shelves and drawers and sanitize using a bleach solution. You can make your own sanitizer by mixing one teaspoon of unscented bleach to one quart of water in a plastic spray bottle. Spray surface and let sit for 10 minutes. Rinse under clean running water and let air dry. Discard unused bleach solution. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning for more information.
When restocking the shelves, organize them so that ready-to-eat foods are stored on top shelves and foods that require cooking, such as meats are stored on the bottom shelves. This prevents liquids from the uncooked meat dripping and contaminating the food below. Stock shelves so that there is space above and in between items. Airflow and circulation helps in keeping the temperature consistent throughout.
Now that your kitchen is ready for the spring, it is important to note some regular upkeep so that you can enjoy it all year round. Label leftovers with the date that it was cooked. Continue to rotate food based on expiration dates, putting the older foods towards the front; this way older foods are use before their expiration date. Always discard items that are past their expiration dates. Wipe up spills as soon as you notice them. Regularly check the thermometer to make sure that foods are being stored at a safe temperature. With weekly upkeep, spring cleaning will be an even easier task next year!
North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center’s goal is to provide the residents of the community with research-based knowledge. For more information on food safety, wellness, and nutrition please contact the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, Alyssa Anderson, MS, RDN, LDN at 919-775-5624.
Alyssa Anderson is Family and Consumer Sciences Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.