On day 247 of my 366-day self-care challenge, I cleaned my refrigerator.
How often do you clean out your fridge?
If you’re like most people, you probably dread the thought of unearthing long-forgotten items that have been pushed to the back of the icebox. Yes, it can be a disgusting task – unless, that is, it’s something you do regularly.
Cleaning the refrigerator was my self-care practice for the day, and it’s an important task for a couple of reasons. For one, being able to find what you need makes cooking more efficient and enjoyable. But another reason is that it can prevent you and your family from getting sick — food-borne illnesses are no joke. Preventing the growth of harmful bacteria is easy when you follow a few basic rules for storing food, and cleaning out the refrigerator on a regular basis is one of them.
Okay, so now that you’ve decided that a deep clean is in order, where should you start?
Start with the top shelf
Starting at the top is a smart strategy. I’ve done it the other way around, only to have accidentally spilled something on a lower shelf that I’ve already cleaned and had to start all over again. Since I keep leftovers and other items that need to be used quickly on the top shelf, starting there makes it easier to relocate items as I go.
Divide the task into sections
Remove items one shelf or drawer at a time. This way, you can close the doors again while you clean and check dates to prevent temperatures from falling too low, putting other foods at risk of moving into the danger zone (between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit). You can also place a thermometer inside the fridge to monitor temperatures if you like.
Use a toothbrush
Use a new, clean toothbrush to scrub the nooks and crannies that you can’t reach with a cloth or sponge. Don’t re-purpose a used one that could potentially harbor bacteria. Instead, buy a cheap toothbrush at the dollar store. It doesn’t need to be fancy; it just needs to be able to reach small spaces.
Since you’re taking everything out anyway, you might as well reorganize the sections to make it easier to find what you need. Invest in some good containers that don’t leak and can withstand multiple washings. There are lots of brands to choose from, but I personally like Tupperware’s FridgeSmart series because I can adjust oxygen flow to reduce spoilage. (Lettuce stays crisp for about two weeks in my experience.) And since March 2010, Tupperware is BPA-free. It’s best to store uncooked meats on a bottom shelf or drawer to prevent it from dripping onto fresh produce or other foods that won’t be cooked. Decide where to store leftovers and other foods that will need to be used quickly.
Clean the entire box
Don’t forget to wipe down the top, bottom, and sides of the fridge, as well as the seals around the doors, which can also invite mold and bacteria growth.
Clean the garbage bin
While you’re at it, you might as well clean out the garbage and recycling bins too. If you have a pull-out bin, you know that food can sometimes collect in the bottom of the slider, making it horribly difficult to clean. Wiping this area out regularly prevents mold and bacterial growth. Spray them down with a sanitizer and wipe them dry. If they need a bit more scrubbing, you may need to take them outside and hose them out.
Although I do a quick “wipe and toss” every week, I still found 8 items that were expired and needed to be thrown out. Doing a top-to-bottom, deep clean once a quarter (with the change of seasons) works best for me. Monthly just feels like too much, and anything less than quarterly usually means I’ll be spending a few hours cleaning.
The quarterly deep-clean takes me about 90 minutes. My 6-hour investment each year is a small price to pay for good health.
How do you keep your refrigerator clean and safe?