How-To: Clean and Organize Your Refrigerator

By Claire Harvin

full refrigerator and very dirty

Cleaning, organizing and maintaining a neat fridge can be a daunting task — refrigerators build up dirt, germs and odor before you know it. With these steps and tips, this task can be simple and more manageable, and getting ahead of the mess is easy if you stay on track.

 

There are daily tasks to be done to prevent a smelly, overflowing fridge. These include:

  • Wiping up spills
  • Wiping off containers before storing
  • Checking for spoilage

Weekly, you should:

  • Wipe the doors, edges, top of fridge, and handles with a cloth and mixture of dishwashing liquid and water, or stainless steel spray if applicable, to clean bacteria and germs.

A full-fridge clean up should be done seasonally:

  • Turn the fridge off and place its contents on the counter
  • Take out removable shelves and drawers. Clean them in the sink with baking soda and hot water, leave to dry.
  • Clean the interior and door seals with baking soda and water mixture. Wipe off with a wet rag and dry with a clean towel.

* Tip: Don’t use soap or detergent on the interior, as food can absorb the scent.

  • Replace the drawers and shelves and plug the fridge back in.

Now its time to clean out the contents:

  • Toss expired food by looking at the expiration date or using these guidelines on how long food lasts in the fridge:

Meat, Poultry and Seafood

  • Bacon: 2 weeks, 1 week opened
  • Chicken: 2 days
  • Cold cuts: 2 weeks, 5 days opened
  • Fish: 2 days
  • Ground meat: 2 days
  • Pork: 3 days
  • Shellfish: 2 days
  • Steak: 3 days

Produce

  • Apples: 3 weeks
  • Blueberries: 1 week
  • Broccoli and Cauliflower: 1 week
  • Kale and Spinach: 3 days
  • Leafy Herbs: 3 days
  • Citrus Fruits: 3 weeks
  • Lettuce: 5 days
  • Melons: 5 days, 3 days once cut
  • Mushrooms: 1 week
  • Raspberries and Strawberries: 3 days

Dairy

  • Block Hard Cheese: 4 months
  • Black Semi-Hard Cheese: 6 months, 1 month once opened
  • Butter: 3 months
  • Cream Cheese: 2 months
  • Eggs: 5 weeks
  • Heavy Cream: 1 month
  • Milk and Milk Alternatives: 1 week
  • Ricotta/Cottage Cheese: 1 week
  • Sour Cream: 3 weeks
  • Soft Cheese: 2 weeks, 1 week once opened
  • Tofu: 3 weeks, 1 week once opened
  • Yogurt: 2 weeks

The following items should not be stored in the refrigerator:

  • Honey: Will thicken in the fridge, but lasts for 1 year at room temperature.
  • Onion/Garlic: Will soften in the fridge, but lasts for 2 months at room temperature.
  • Potatoes: Will become too starchy in the fridge, but last for 3 weeks at room temperature.
  • Tomatoes: Will become mushy in the fridge, but last for 3 days at room temperature.
  • Squash: Will last for 3 months at room temperature, or 1 week in the fridge once cut.

To take your fridge organization to the next level…

  • Group like items together
  • Wipe down every container with a damp cloth
  • Store based on temperature, as each part of the refrigerator has a different temperature zone that dictates what food should go where:

Upper Shelves

  • The upper shelves are not as cold as the lower part of the fridge, so foods that do not require cooking or already prepared foods should go here, such as leftovers and ready to eat foods. Drinks also go here.

Middle

  • The middle of the refrigerator is the most consistent temperature, perfect for eggs, which should be kept in their original carton to keep them odor-free.
  • The middle is also the closest to eye level, so if you want to organize based on what needs to be eaten, place priority foods, like leftovers or healthy snacks, here.

Drawers

  • Drawers are usually on the same level but have different humidity levels that dictate their contents.
  • Fruits should be stored in the low humidity or crisper drawer, sometimes labeled for fruits. They should be stored in their original packaging or a loosely tied plastic bag, with the exception of citrus fruits, that are fine on their own.
  • Vegetables should be stored in the high humidity drawer in their original packaging or a loosely tied plastic bag.

*Tip: Pat down produce with paper towel after buying to remove excess moisture. Leave them unwashed until eating, as water promotes mold and bacteria.

Lower Shelves

  • The bottom of the refrigerator is the coldest, meant for foods that easily go bad.
  • Raw meats should definitely go here, both to preserve them and to prevent contamination if they were to leak.
  • Milk should go at the bottom back of the refrigerator, the coldest part.
  • Yogurt, creams, cottage cheese, and other highly perishable dairy products should also go lower in the fridge with the expiration dates visible.
  • Deli meat should also go toward the bottom, either in the narrow meat drawer, if your fridge has one, or on a lower shelf.

Door

  • The door is the warmest part of the refrigerator, meant for less perishable items, especially not eggs or milk.
  • Condiments, dressings and nut oils are high in natural preservatives and therefore perfect for this area.
  • Butter and soft cheeses should go in the dairy compartment of the door in an airtight container.

Finally, here are some organizing and storage tips to help you maintain a clean fridge and make the most out of its contents:

  • Use easy view containers
  • Use erasable labels to label the contents, the date it was bought or made, and the date to eat by
  • Store microwavable leftovers in stain-resistant glass
  • Store food that doesn’t need reheating in plastic containers
  • If you cannot store raw meat at the bottom of the fridge, double bag and store in a plastic bin

 

Hopefully this will inspire you to take control of your fridge to help your food last longer and make you feel more at ease. Happy cleaning!!

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