November 15th is the designated day to clean out your refrigerator! And believe it or not, there is a method to it: how to organize for longest shelf-life, and there’s an optimal time to do it: mid-November, to make room for the onslaught of holiday treats and dishes.
Want to know how and where to store food in the fridge so it lasts longer? What homemade products or those found right in your pantry work best to clean and stave off bacteria which can result in strange odors? And once cleaned out, what’s the best way to restock to maintain accessibility, visibility, and organization?
To begin with, a refrigerator should always be kept between 35 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit (1.8 to 4 degrees Celsius), and a freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 18 Celsius) or lower. At higher temperatures, bacteria multiply faster and contaminate food. When cleaning out your fridge and freezer, clearly the door may be open for a long period of time with the temperature rising, so working quickly is the key to minimizing food contamination dangers. If you have some large coolers, you can always store the food with ice packs while you are cleaning, and take advantage of the opportunity to thoroughly scrutinize expiration dates and toss what you can.
Next, remove crispers, shelves, racks, butter doors, and anything that is made to come out for a more comprehensive cleaning. Fill the sink with hot, soapy water and let items soak so that spills, stains, and built-up food and grime are more easily scraped and scrubbed away. Wash the inside thoroughly with warm, soapy water, paying attention to the rubber seals where dirt and grime can accumulate. Dry well. For an ideal non-toxic cleaning product, simply combine one cup water, one teaspoon white vinegar, and one teaspoon dish soap in a spray bottle. Baking soda can also be a powerful, non-toxic stain remover that sanitizes, deodorizes, and because it is an abrasive, cuts through grease, caked on stains and grime.
When returning food to the fridge, contrary to most appliance designs, eggs do not belong in the door but rather where temperature is most consistent: on the middle shelf. And they should be kept in their original containers.
Milk, yogurt, sour cream, and cottage cheese belong on the bottom, toward the back, where the temperature is coldest. Experts recommend storing them on a turntable for easy access.
Butter, margarine, and soft cheeses can go in the door’s dairy compartment. Due to constant activity of a door being opened and closed, it tends to be the warmest area of the fridge. Juices also do fine here unless they are fresh-squeezed, whereupon they should go on the coldest bottom shelf.
Vegetables and fruit should not be stored together, as vegetables need moisture and fruit does best in low humidity. If you have a drawer labeled vegetables, try and use it, leaving veggies in original packaging (tied up with rubber bands or twist-ties, or in plastic bags). The fruit drawer is called the crisper. Citrus products do not need to be bagged, but be sure to store other fruit in original packaging or plastic bags.
Packaged raw meats should be stored on the bottom shelf, where it is coldest. If juices drip, they won’t contaminate the rest of the fridge. Deli should go in the designated shallow meat drawer, which tends to be colder than the rest of the refrigerator, or on the bottom shelf with the packaged raw meats.
As condiments (ketchup; mustard; mayonnaise; salad dressing) tend to contain natural preservatives such as vinegar and salt, they should have a long life on the door.
Remember, when preparing to replace the food, your refrigerator may take a few hours to achieve its optimal temperature, depending on how long the door was left opened. If your food is safely stored in coolers with ice packs (or for the lucky ones who have placed it in another fridge on your back porch or in the basement!), you may want to close the door for a couple of hours first. It will take longer to get cold with food inside of it. Here’s to a very happy and productive National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day!