It’s that time of year when homes are getting spruced up and spring cleaned and here’s some tips on cleaning out your fridge in a green and cheap way. I just cleaned ours out and it took me about an hour from start to finish but I was taking pictures and looking up info on the computer as I did it, so it would have taken me less time if I had simply read the article I’m writing versus writing and researching as I went along! The sites (below) are great sources of information on expiration dates, how long certain foods keep after being opened and a charted table of condiments that periodically go bad.
Here’s some simple, inexpensive and green ways to get the fridge clean as you’re checking those expiration dates.
Top to Bottom
First, when cleaning out your refrigerator, you always want to start from the top and work your way down. That way any crumbs, food bits or anything else that might be lurking on the shelves fall down to the next shelf that you haven’t cleaned yet. Pull everything off the shelf and depending on how dirty it is, either pull the shelf out (if you can with your model of fridge) and clean it in warm soapy water (use a disinfecting dish soap) or wipe it down.
The “Green” Secret Weapon (and cheap!)
I don’t like using cleaning products in our refrigerator so I use vinegar to disinfect and clean. Heinz company spokesperson Michael Mullen references numerous studies to show that a straight 5% solution of vinegar (the kind you can buy in the supermarket) kills 99% of bacteria, 82% of mold and 80% of germs (viruses). He noted that Heinz can’t claim on their packaging that vinegar is a disinfectant though since the company has not registered it as a pesticide with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I actually clean the shelves in the soapy water and then spray it with vinegar. Vinegar does have an odor but it dissipates pretty quickly. You can always add a little bit of lemon juice to the spray bottle of straight vinegar or use baking soda and water to keep your cleaning green without the vinegar smell.
The Cracks and Crevices
After you’ve cleaned one shelf (you only want to do one shelf or drawer at a time so you don’t have a ton of food sitting on the counters getting warm), check the expiration dates, wipe off the bottoms of jars, bottles, cartons, etc., (I like to wipe off the rims of all the jar and bottle tops too) and then put the items back in and go on to your next shelf or drawer. If you don’t remember when you bought something but you think it’s been in the fridge for a while, toss it. When in doubt, throw it out. I have a problem reading the expiration dates sometimes because either the ink has been worn off or I can’t find my reading glasses. Now I write the expiration dates on items with a Sharpie marker and I can immediately see the dates when I open the fridge.
Tammy’s Tip ‘O the Day!
*Something I learned by researching this story is that expiration dates and “best-used-by” dates are labeled for the intent of unopened storage of the product. Once opened, the shelf life decreases significantly.
I like to line all my crisper and meat drawers with paper towel after I’ve cleaned them. The paper towels catch any food bits or liquid spills and I can pull them out and the drawer is still clean (usually.)
Keep It Fresh
After you’ve cleaned the inside and put all the non-expired foods back in, finish the inside job off by placing a box of baking soda in the fridge to help absorb future odors. Make sure you write the date down on your box of baking soda and change it as needed. Arm & Hammer Baking Soda recommends you change the box every thirty days but we don’t have a lot of “stinky” foods in our fridge so I usually only replace it every 2-3 months and it seems to work just fine. *When the box of baking soda stops absorbing the odors, don’t toss it….it will still clean your sinks and stains so I pop the box under the sink for future cleaning and make sure I write on the outside of the box “for cleaning only”.
The Final Touches
Since the inside of your refrigerator is now clean, why not clean the outside? Take everything off you have hanging on your fridge or sitting on top of it. Again, starting at the top, wipe off any dust that has accumulated. Then, using your vinegar spray, clean and disinfect and then wipe dry. For tough stains or grease buildup you can add a paste of baking soda and water, then spray with the vinegar and wipe dry. If you use a toothbrush for scrubbing, make sure it’s clean. You don’t want to use a used toothbrush that has not been disinfected….(gross!) Before putting anything back on top of the fridge, make sure you’ve dusted or cleaned it.
Twice a year we unplug the refrigerator, pull it out from the wall and vacuum up the dust and debris from behind it. Dust off the coils back there too.
For more information on how long food lasts in the refrigerator…..
For more information on how to read expiration dates and “use-by-dates”….
This site has a great charted table on all types of condiments and how long they last once opened….
Don’t Throw it All Out! Some of it should be saved…
As I cleaned my fridge out (a week after Easter), I could have kicked myself because I ended up throwing away our DELICIOUS Honey Horseradish Mashed Potato leftovers. I had made some on Thursday for a cooking video and then made them again on Sunday for Easter dinner so we were kind of tired of them and I forgot to freeze them before they went bad. I did however look at all my produce (as I do weekly) and anything that looked like it might not stay fresh much longer, got tossed in a freezer bag for future stock.