November 15 is National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day. Yes, there really is a day for everything! But it is smart to make room in your refrigerator now before Thanksgiving starts to cause a panicked shuffle for space in the icebox. I like to do mini refrigerator clean outs every Sunday (I use up vegetables in vegetable soup and make pizza or pasta for the kids with the remnants of the olives, capers, sundried tomatoes and other such things lurking in nearly empty jars! But every couple of month or at least once a year, we all really need to pull everything out and give our refrigerators (fridges as we call them in New Zealand) a good clean.
After my hubby had a kidney transplant last year I became even more vigilant about food hygiene: Remember that the refrigerator circulates air to keep things cold, so if you have moldy food dying in the very back, those spores are spreading on everything. PS, if you think your kitchen surfaces are clean, see if you can find an episode of “How Clean is Your House” on youtube or PBS. The engaging presenters in this BBC show - in the early episodes at least - swab surfaces of house-proud homeowners and grow the results of the swabs in Petrie dishes with shocking results. E. Coli anyone? It turned into a decluttering show in later seasons - which I also love - but these early episodes just appeal to my inner science geek!
Ok, but back to cleaning out the refrigerator. Here are the steps I take. Pretty common sense, but in case they help you (or you want to print them out and give them to your teenager to carry out), perhaps this will help you:
- Take everything out of the refrigerator. Put frozen and items that must stay cold always (chicken!) into a cooler.
- Toss old and expired food (compost or feed to your chickens if you can! If you haven't read my blog post about composting, click here - even city dwellers can have a worm bin)
- Remove all the bins and soak in the sink in warm water with dish soap and some baking soda. I like to add a couple of drops of sweet orange and rosemary essentials oils, so I get some aromatherapy with my cleaning! Just add a drop of each in the sink of warm water - don’t drop directly onto plastic as it may discolor it.
- Wipe down all the surfaces - I get a bowl of warm soapy water with the same couple of drops of essential oils. I like to use an eco-friendly recycled rag made from an old kitchen towel along with an old toothbrush to get into the crevices and work from top to bottom. Our newer refrigerator has some really annoying areas where spilled liquids are almost impossible to get to, so I hope yours does not!
- Be sure to dump out your ice and wipe out your ice container if you have one
- Pull out the refrigerator and vacuum the back and exposed coils - dust makes your refrigerator run harder using more power
- After you’ve cleaned the inside, give the outside a good wipe down as well and particularly get into any crevices around the ice maker or water dispenser. Our GE has a Keurig coffee maker built in (crazy huh!) and we love it, but it does get a bit messy and need a good clean every week or so!
- Once you’re all clean, restock your food in zones:
- Fruits and vegetables in separate bins with the humidity control set to the appropriate level
- Meat - especially raw meat and poultry - at the lowest and coldest part of the refrigerator. Use a glass container to make sure there are no spills.
- Dairy together in a cold area - not in the door which gets exposed to a lot of temperature changes.
- Leftovers or meal prepped items in one area. I like to use glass containers for leftovers and food prepped items for a uniform look, and I can then write on the glass with a wine glass pen to mark what the delectable delight inside is, and the day I made it.
- Put all your sauces and condiments together. This is a trick from the KonMarie method (thank you Marie Kondo!) that I’ve adopted across the house - simply gathering like items together makes you quickly see what is being unintentionally overstocked. We really did have five half-full ketchup bottles when I cleaned the refrigerator last time.
- If it is time for a new refrigerator (hint - leave a thermometer inside to test how cold it is keeping your foods), many areas have a program where they will pick up old refrigerators and pay you a few dollars. In Oregon, you can find more info here: Never leave old refrigerators outside or unplugged where children could climb in and become trapped.
- Challenge yourself to be creative with food that needs to be used up before the holiday cooking season starts in earnest. I love the Epicurious app - I plug in something I have that needs to be eaten and see what recipes pop up to use it. Not only do I use up things that need to be used, but it also helps me get out of the cooking rut that easily occurs by the sheer nature of cooking for five people, seven days a week on top of working, chasing sheep, studying, and pretending to go to the gym.
What are your tips for cleaning out this hard-working appliance? And shall we do the pantry next?