It may seem like a daunting chore, but cleaning your refrigerator is worth
When's the last time you gave your refrigerator a good cleaning? If
there's a glob of dried pasta sauce on the shelf and a container of
leftovers so old it's waving hello at you, then it's safe to say
it's been too long! "Cleaning the fridge may be a chore, but
it's a necessary one for food safety and your health--and it's
not as big of a job as it may seem," says Dahlia Marin, RDN, the
registered dietitian nutritionist at the new
Mission Hospital Wellness Corner - Sendero Marketplace. Here's what you need to know to keep your fridge, and your food,
in pristine condition.
Why you need to clean your refrigerator
We may think, “I just cleaned the fridge out not too long ago”
without realizing that it has actually been nine months, and several families
of bacterial are now colonizing in your vegetable crisper. "Your
refrigerator is meant to keep food fresh, and also prevent bacteria from
growing too quickly in food," Marin says. "But if the refrigerator
isn't cleaned out regularly, whether you leave spoiled food in it
or don't clean it properly, there is the possibility of cross-contamination.
For instance, if you have a package of raw chicken that leaks onto the
refrigerator shelf, the bacteria from that chicken juice can spoil other
food it comes into contact with on the shelf. Also, there are some bacteria, such as
listeria, that can grow quickly in cold temperatures, so it's important to
clean your refrigerator regularly."
Test your food safety knowledge with this
How to clean your refrigerator
You may think cleaning your refrigerator is a heavy-duty job, but it can
be more manageable with regular upkeep. Here are some of our easy-peasy
Clean up spills right when they happen. Don't let them dry and get crusty over time, because they'll
be much harder to remove or to see to clean properly. Simple soap and
water works; white vinegar is also a good non-toxic, all-purpose cleaner
and can be mixed one part vinegar to three parts water. Be mindful not
to clean in the refrigerator with harsh chemicals, which can make their
way into your sensitive gut once they have come in contact with your food.
A few of Marin’s favorite natural cleaners are
Dr. Bronner’s Organic Castile Soap and
Give the fridge a once-over every week. "Inside the refrigerator, take a look at the food and toss anything
that is spoiled or moldy, or freeze things that are still good but you
can't eat right away." Marin says. (If you're confused about
how to decipher expiration dates, check out this handy
guide.) "On the outside of the refrigerator, wipe the surfaces down with
a vinegar-and-water mixture or a natural multipurpose cleaner, especially
the handles, which can be a hotbed of germs. A great time to do this is
right before you go to the supermarket, so you have a clean refrigerator
ready for your new groceries and empty Tupperware to store new dishes
Set aside a day a few times each year for a deeper clean. This shouldn't be too difficult if you are regularly cleaning your
refrigerator. Once the power to the fridge is turned off and it's
emptied of any food, you can start scrubbing out the inside walls and
compartments, and removing the shelves for washing and drying. Making
a paste of baking soda and water will not only clean the refrigerator,
but the baking soda will help get rid of any odors. This would also be
a good time to make sure the seals on the refrigerator doors are in good
condition so it maintains the proper temperature, and replace the water
filter if necessary. Finally, clean the condenser coils, either underneath
or on the back of the unit, according to the manufacturer's instructions.
How to store food to keep the refrigerator clean
Wipe down food jars and containers before they go in the refrigerator. You never know how many hands handled that jar from factory to grocery
store prior to it entering your home. Take a second to rinse or wipe it
off prior to using it or putting it in your food’s home! No-sugar-added
tomato sauce, natural peanut butter, mustard and healthy salad dressings--these
types of food (and their less-healthy counterparts) can drip off the lid
or jar edge, which can cause a mess. Ensuring they are tightly closed
prior to them returning will also reduce spillage and accidents.
Put meat and poultry in a safe place. "Raw meats should be placed on the bottom shelf so they don't
accidentally drip on other food in the refrigerator," Marin says.
"Taking the grass-fed and organic poultry or meat out of its supermarket
packaging and putting it in a leak-proof container can add another layer
of protection from cross-contamination."
Put a lid on leftovers. You can guard against spills and rapid spoilage by using glass containers
with lids that can be tightly sealed. “I try to avoid consuming
leftovers which have had a used utensil in them in the previous 48-72
hours, as the bacteria from your mouth rapidly grows, causing the leftovers
to spoil faster. Leaving utensils in leftovers also makes them more likely
to leave behind a mess,” Marin advises.
Give food some breathing room. Don't pile food items on top of each other in the fridge. The less
cold air that can reach the food, the more likely it is to spoil quickly,
especially foods high in protein, such as meats, beans, and grains. "Spoiled
food can be a cause of food poisoning with an onset of anywhere from two
to 24 hours after consuming the rotten food, which can trigger vomiting,
fever and stomach pain, among other symptoms," Marin says. "If
you experience those severe symptoms or others such as dehydration or
diarrhea, contact your doctor."
Know which foods need to be refrigerated and which don’t. Fresh meat and poultry must be kept refrigerated at 40 degrees F or below,
but keeping certain fruits on the countertop will save space and avoid
quick spoilage. Avocados, bananas, cantaloupes, kiwis, mangoes, nectarines,
pears, plums, and tomatoes produce a gas called ethylene as they ripen,
causing them to become mealy quickly when refrigerated and making them
more likely to blister and leak.
Prolong shelf-life and reduce spoilage by removing moisture and changing
storage bags. Many produce items will begin spoiling quicker when damp and suffocated.
Removing them from non-breathable plastic bags (which can be avoided all
together by taking reusable mesh bags to the grocery store), drying them
with a paper towel, and storing them in mesh bags can lead to fewer spills
and longer safe use.
Practicing these food safety tips may seem daunting, but it’s no
more of a drag than missing work, social functions, or school due to a
foodborne illness caused by an unkempt refrigerator. Make them a regular
part of your routine and your body will thank you!
How often do you clean out your refrigerator? Share a comment below.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.