Spring cleaning for your refrigerator

March 21, 2012 2:13:00 PM PDT
Many people may think of giving the house or closets extra attention when it comes to spring cleaning -- but an area that is often neglected and could contribute to you getting sick: your refrigerator.

It's important to keep a clean refrigerator. Spring is the perfect time to toss out old food and make sure the refrigerator is in tip top shape! Dr. Mark Dworkin, a medical epidemiologist and food safety expert from the University of Illinois at Chicago has some suggestions to give your refrigerator a "spring cleaning". A clean refrigerator not only helps keep contents organized, but also helps make the refrigerator odor-free.

How often should it be cleaned? Ideally, a weekly cleaning would keep it clean, fresh smelling, food-safe and organized. But, that's not always practical and needs vary depending on use and how you maintain your food storage on an on-going basis.

    Cleaning Tips:
  • Create a homemade all-purpose cleaner: 1 cup clear ammonia, ½ cup vinegar, ¼ cup baking soda. Use it to wipe down drawers and shelves
  • Use toothpaste to remove tough stains.
  • To combat odors: fill a clean old sock with activated charcoal, tie a knot in the top and place it in the back of the refrigerator. This will last a month or two.
  • Eliminate lingering odors in vegetable bins by putting a crumpled piece of brown paper grocery bag inside and leaving it for 48 hours. The paper will absorb the odor.

  • Use thermometer: keep refrigerator at 37 degrees, freezer at 0 degrees or below.
  • Milk: follow guideline stamped on package.
  • Raw Eggs in Shell- 3 to 5 weeks (Store them in their original carton in the coldest part of refrigerator, not in the door.)
  • Hard Cheese: up to 8 weeks/Soft Cheese: a few weeks
  • Hot Dogs/Cold Cuts- opened package: store for 3 to 5 days/unopened package: 2 weeks
  • Leftovers- varies, but generally 3 to 5 days.

  • Preventing Freezer Burn: Freezer burn ? white, dried-out patches on the surface of meat ? won't make you sick, but it does make meat tough and tasteless. Here's how to avoid it: Wrap freezer items in heavy freezer paper, plastic wrap, freezer bags, or foil. Date all freezer packages. Use the oldest food first. Place new items toward the back of the freezer ? that way, older items are easier to access and you'll use them first.
  • Refreezing Thawed Food: If food is thawed in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze it without cooking. However, there may be a loss of quality due to the moisture lost through defrosting.
  • Freezing Cooked Food: After cooking raw food that was previously frozen, it is safe to freeze the cooked food. In addition, if previously cooked food were frozen and then thawed in the refrigerator, you may refreeze the unused portion.
  • Prevent Moisture Loss: To maintain quality when freezing meat and poultry in its original packaging, overwrap the package with foil or plastic wrap that is recommended for use in the freezer.

The USDA offers many fact sheets that answer additional refrigerator food storage questions: fsis.usda.gov