November 15 is National Clean Out Your Fridge Day – and while you should deep clean your fridge more than annually, this day is perfectly timed ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday when many families struggle to find refrigerator space to store side dishes and casseroles.
The refrigerator is one of the most essential household appliances, and often experiences its fair share of spills from leftovers and sauces. It’s a good idea to spot clean as needed and give it a good deep clean every quarter or so. Not sure where to start? Follow our guide:
Ideally, the job should take no more than two hours, as refrigerated items shouldn’t be left outside for longer than that.
Toss out spoiled and expired items. The first step in a refrigerator deep clean should be removing all items. Toss any items that show evidence of spoiling, such as mold on cheese or strawberries. Open jarred items that have been opened previously, such as jams or relishes, to check for spoilage. Don’t rely solely on “best by dates.” The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises that even if the expiration date on your food has passed, it should still be safe to eat if handled properly until spoilage is evident, except for infant formula. Here’s a closer look at what expiration dates mean according to the USDA:
- “Best if Used By/Before” date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
- “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.
- “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date, except for when used on infant formula.
- A “Freeze-By” date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
Remove shelves and drawers. Take out any shelving, drawers, and any removable parts. Make sure any glass shelves sit at room temperature to cool down before washing with hot water, as they could crack.
Clean and dry. Wash all removable parts by hand with hot soapy water, then dry with a clean towel. Clean the inside of the fridge with warm soapy water on a towel, then repeat with a clean damp towel, then dry.
Keep it going. Make the most out of your refrigerated items and leftovers by storing them properly.
- Store herbs rolled in a paper towel in a zip bag, with the air removed to maintain freshness.
- Keep items that state “refrigerate after opening” in the pantry if they haven’t been opened to save refrigerator space.
- Thin-skinned vegetables that are wilting prone such as leafy greens, cucumbers and broccoli maintain their quality best in the crisper drawer.
- Keep any veggies away from freeze-prone areas, as this may change the structure of the veggies and affect the flavor and cooking processes.
- Keep these rules of thumb in mind for storing Thanksgiving leftovers:
- Turkey: freeze or consume within 4 days.
- Stuffing and gravy: 2 days.
- Side dishes: 4 days.
Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan based in Detroit. Passionate about the science of nutrition and behavior, Shanthi has experience working in clinical nutrition, public health and teaching in the university setting. In her free time, she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, exploring the outdoors, working on art and spending time with family. For more information, visit ahealthiermichigan.org.
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