Food Safety

How clean is your refrigerator?

When was the last time you cleaned out your refrigerator? If you can’t remember, you are not alone. Nearly 20 percent of people surveyed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and ConAgra Foods said they did not know the last time their refrigerator was cleaned. Another 20 percent said it was never cleaned.

Now might be a good time to clean off those shelves, throw out the old stuff, and wipe down with a warm soapy cloth. Whether fresh or spoiled, food can carry bacteria on it. This bacteria can then contaminate your refrigerator. To be sure your refrigerator is bacteria free, follow these tips.

  • Clear out the foods that are past due. If leftovers have been sitting around for more than 3–5 days, it's time to toss. Also check prepackaged foods for use by date. Remember FIFO: first in, first out. Use up the foods you first put in before piling in new groceries each week. 
  • Avoid letting drips, spills, and dirt linger. Use a warm soapy cloth or paper towel to wipe down shelves and drawers. Always clean up spills right away. Also, check the seal around the door for dirt or mold. 
  • Keep the temperature between 32 and 40 degrees F. Once that temp gets above 40, bacteria can start to multiple quickly. Place a thermometer on the center shelf to see how cold your refrigerator is. Adjust the dial if needed.
  • Cover and seal all foods. Keeping foods in sealed containers will not only help food stay fresher, it will also keep your fridge cleaner. Reusable, sealed containers keep foods from spilling or leaking juices onto each other and your shelves. This also goes for thawing raw meat. Always cover raw meat to avoid dripping and cross-contamination. 
  • Wipe down jars and jugs. Ever buy a leaky milk carton or slop spaghetti sauce on the side of the jar? Be sure to wipe visible grime, grit, or food from the outside of containers before you store them in the fridge. This will help keep things clean and prevent strange smells from occurring.

References

  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and ConAgra Foods. Home food safety. Accessed May 25, 2012.

Author: Lona Sandon, M.Ed., R.D., Assistant Professor, UT Southwestern Medical Center