Looking through the fridge this morning trying to find I-don’t-know-what, I said to myself; well, out loud actually, ‘I really need to clean this fridge.’
Even if you tend to keep a clean kitchen, not being vigilant about cleaning the shelves, doors and drawers in your refrigerator could make it a source of potentially sickening substances.
Studies have shown that many consumers don’t even think about how to organize a fridge when putting away groceries, rarely even clean them and sometimes continue to use food that’s well past its prime. All of that could mean that you and your family are unwittingly ingesting bacteria.
It may be more pleasant not to think about it, but juices and sticky substances lingering in your fridge could be getting into your fresh food. About a third of consumers don’t clean their fridge before filling it with more groceries, according to a survey of 2,571 by home appliance maker Whirlpool. That could make your fresh foods go bad more quicky, so if you see or feel something moldy, gooey or sticky, wipe it up!
I know it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it. Cleaning the fridge is a good thing but can also be a bad thing especially when you come across something you can’t identify or when an opened container of cottage cheese has turned a lovely shade of emerald green and has grown fur!
How your fridge is organized can be key to food safety since temperatures can vary in different areas. Yet 27% of consumers surveyed reported randomly putting groceries wherever they’d fit in the fridge, the Whirlpool report found.
Refrigerator-maker Sub-Zero observed customers habits when putting away chilled items and also saw some potentially nasty habits, the Journal adds.
As one might assume, the crisper drawers in your fridge are meant for fruits and vegetables. Temperature and humidity are actually regulated in these drawers to keep produce fresher longer, yet Sub-Zero observations found that some people tend to put meat and soda cans in the crisper drawers.
Refrigerator doors aren’t a good place to put your milk, even though it fits there perfectly. The door is the warmest place in your fridge according to food safety officials and if left in the door, your milk may spoil faster and could attract bacteria which can grow quickly if it’s not colder than 40F/5C, the Journal reports. Eggs shouldn’t be stored in the door either.
The temperature of your fridge should always be below 40 degrees. Bacteria can grow rapidly on food stored between 40F and 140F (5C-63C), a so-called danger zone, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. The agency suggests buying a thermometer, and keeping it in the warmest area of your fridge.
Even if you’re not a food hoarder, having too much food in the fridge can lead to food safety concerns. If a fridge is too packed, there may not be enough cold air circulating to keep your food at a safe temperature.
Refrigerators should be checked for spoiled food at least once a week, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Shelves and drawers can be cleaned one at a time and the dirtiest part of the fridge, below the bottom drawers, should be thoroughly cleaned as well, the Journal says.
You may want to schedule your next fridge cleaning for the day before you go grocery shopping so that you don’t have to take out and leave out chilled items for too long.
Take out everything in your fridge and throw out anything moldy or old, especially if an expiration date has long since passed, suggests Health.com. Next, scrub down all the removable parts like shelves and drawers as well as all of the inside and outside surfaces, especially door handles.
The plastic parts inside your refrigerator may be damaged with hot water, bleach or other household cleaners, so check the manual that came with your fridge. If you don’t have it anymore, you may be able to find one online on the manufacturer’s Web site.
If you can’t get the manual, Health.com also suggests using warm water and mild soap to wipe down shelves and drawers, then rinse them with warm water and dry them with a cloth.
To absorb any funky smells, open a box of baking soda and put it in the middle of your fridge. (And DON’T use this for cooking. When changing over to a new box, pour the used one down the kitchen drain to keep it smelling fresh)
Some scientists say that activated charcoal is more effective than baking soda, however, so if you tend to keep especially stinky foods, like cheeses, in your fridge, the charcoal might be a better option for you.
Not surprisingly, fresh lunch meats and cheeses should go in the deli meat drawer (if you have one) and raw meat should generally be kept on the bottom shelf since juices can drip from their packaging and could end up on fruits and vegetables, or other products that you may not heat up, the Journal says. Place meats and fish on a plate or in a bowl to help prevent drips even on the bottom shelf…it’s less to clean up.
Remember, E. coli could be present in meat even if you don’t get sick from it since it’s killed when meat is properly cooked. Drip trays, drawers, shelves and the bottom of your fridge should be cleaned regularly.
Vegetables should be kept in the crisper. You may forget that you have veggies in the fridge if you keep them in a crisper drawer, especially if it’s not transparent, but if you clean out your fridge on a regular basis, you’ll be less likely to forget about what you have in there.
Americans clean out their refrigerators so rarely that there’s a designated National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day. Several Web sites have taken the day as an opportunity to post pictures of some of the worst-kept fridges, but we hope that these help convince consumers to start cleaning them out regularly, and by that we don’t mean once a year.
“Molds have branches and roots that are like very thin threads. The roots may be difficult to see when the mold is growing on food and may be very deep in the food,” says the USDA.
And fresh foods don’t need to be touching moldy foods for the mold to be spread to them. When spores are dry, they become airborne in order to reach the nearest and best conditions, according to the USDA.
Condiments generally aren’t meant to last in the fridge for years. In fact, “most will stay fresh for two months on the door of the refrigerator,” according to MedicineNet.com.
The refrigerator door is an appropriate place to store condiments, since the acids they tend to contain help them resist contamination by bacteria, but for the best quality, the site suggests using them within a few months.
Office refrigerators can be the most offensive and the most hazardous to your health, especially if no one is designated to clean it every now and then.
Last year, one San Jose, Calif. office fridge containing rotting food was so noxious that it sent seven office workers to the hospital with nausea and vomiting, according to reports from local television station KTVU. It was so bad that a HAZMAT team was called to evacuate 325 people from the office building.
The HAZMAT fridge incident appears to have been caused by the stuffed refrigerator being unplugged for too long, causing the food to decompose.
If the power in your home goes out, or your fridge is accidentally unplugged, your food can be kept safely for about four hours if it’s not opened, according to the USDA. If it’s opened, cool air will escape and raise the temperature inside the fridge. Food in a full freezer can last about 48 hours if unopened, the USDA says.
So remember to clean your fridge regularly,
as a clean fridge is a happy fridge!