The thought of eating at a restaurant without an "A" rating the Health Department sends shivers of disgust down the spines of most city dwellers. Meanwhile, their home refrigerators might be so coated in germs that they probably wouldn't even earn a passing grade if they tried.
Even when groceries are safely tucked away in the refrigerator bacteria and germs can sneak into food. When measured, the produce drawer in the fridge was by far the dirtiest, containing over 750 times a safe amount of bacteria. It's basically like storing your strawberries in the toilet. Yuck. And, most of us only clean our fridge annually—if not less often—allowing regular spills from defrosting chicken breasts or the sticky bottles of jam to morph into cesspools of bacteria.
But your fridge doesn't need to be a gnarly pit of despair. It's surprisingly easy to clean out and organize your fridge to save energy and make food last longer. Do this clean sweep and you'll be excited to start cooking again!
Clean the interior
You want to start with a clean slate. Clear everything out of the fridge (we'll get to that stuff later), and if possible, take out all the drawers and racks. If it's not possible, unplug the fridge to save energy—doing a thorough cleaning can take a while. Then, use an all-natural cleanser to wash away any grime that might be hanging out on shelves and in drawers. Use apple cider vinegar or hydrogen peroxide diluted with water to kill bacteria without harsh chemicals. Scrub all the nooks and crannies, as this is where spillage pools, prompting nasty stuff to grow.
Get rid of stink
If it's truly been a long time since the fridge got a good scrub-down, a funky odor might linger even after cleaning. Combine a few tablespoons of baking soda with a couple drops of essential oils in an open container and leave in the back corner of the fridge. The baking soda will neutralize stinky odors while essential oils impart a natural fresh scent.
Restock, but be discerning
First, toss all the old stuff. And not just perishables past their "best by" date—other items like condiments and pickled foods deserve a second glance, too. Ketchup, jams, and jellies are all good for six months after opening (and mustard is good for a full year!), but mayo and salad dressing should go after about two months. And those olives and pickles that garnish sandwiches? Eat them up fast—after two weeks, as their quality degrades and bacterial growth occurs.
Help food last longer
Strategically placing food in the fridge can help save energy and keep everything fresher longer. The best spot for goods that need to be kept at cooler temperatures, like dairy or meat? The back bottom corner.
Cheese, butter, and condiments can be kept in the door, which is the warmest spot in the fridge; produce should be kept in the crisper, which is typically a little warmer and will keep veggies and fruits fresh for far longer.
Keep that fridge efficient, organized, and germ-free by doing a regular clean every couple of weeks. No need to scrub down everything, but toss old food and clean up any spills immediately after they happen.
Illustration by Foley Wu