Cleaning the Fridge

— Written By and last updated by Susan Bugg

Now is a good time to clean and organize your refrigerator. Cleaning the refrigerator or freezer periodically can increase its operating efficiency, extend the life of the appliance, and protect foods stored within. Here are a few things to consider when cleaning out the refrigerator:

Dispose. Make it a weekly habit to throw out perishable foods that should no longer be eaten. General guidelines for discarding perishable foods: homemade leftovers that are four days old or more, deli meats that are more than three days old, and raw poultry and meats that are more than two days old.

Cleaning inside the fridge. Use paper towels, hot water and a mild cleaner, such as dish detergent, to wipe down the interior walls of the fridge and shelves. Be sure to include storage bin, drawers and space that you store deli meats and cheese. Use paper towels to pat surfaces dry. Keep in mind that strong cleansers may impart taste to food or ice cubes or cause damage to the interior finish of your refrigerator – follow refrigerator manufacturer’s instructions.

If you choose to sanitize after cleaning, you can use a kitchen surface sanitizer (many contain bleach) found in local grocery stores – be sure to follow label directions. To make your own sanitizer, add one teaspoon of unscented bleach to a quart of water. Bleach solutions get less effective with time, so discard unused portions daily. Keep in mind that solutions of lemon juice and water are not strong enough for effective sanitizing,

Cleaning outside the fridge. To keep your refrigerator in top working order, clean its coils several times throughout the year. The front grill should be kept free of dust and lint to allow free air flow to the condenser. Several times a year the condenser coil should be cleaned with a brush or vacuum cleaner to remove dirt, lint or other accumulations. Keeping the door gaskets clean will help the refrigerator to seal well. Use a sponge or soft cloth to wash thoroughly with a mild detergent and warm water, then rinse and dry. Do not using cleaning waxes, bleaches, strong detergents or petroleum-based cleaners on gaskets. They may cause the gaskets to yellow and crumble.

Keep a safe temperature. The use of an appliance thermometer is the best way to check the inside temperature of your refrigerator and freezer. The refrigerator should be at 40 °F or below and the freezer at 0 °F or below. A good indication of proper temperature in the freezer is that ice cream will be frozen solid.

Placement of food. Do not tightly pack foods in the refrigerator or freezer. Separation allows cold air to circulate around the food. Top shelf is ideal for fruits and vegetables. The middle shelf is ideal for cheeses and sliced deli meats. The bottom shelf is ideal for raw meats, fish, poultry, eggs (stored in the carton), milk and leftovers. Raw meats should always be stored on a plate or tray on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator to prevent raw juices from coming in contact with other foods. Door storage is ideal for condiments, sauces, and acidic fruit juices. Crisper drawers are ideal for fruits and vegetables.
Keep it fresh.

An opened box of baking soda will reduce food odors and prevent taste transfer between foods. A second box in the freezer will keep ice cubes and ice cream fresher tasting longer by absorbing stale freezer odors. It is also helpful to keep foods wrapped so that everything stays fresh longer and flavors don’t mix.

Written By

Photo of Linda MingesLinda MingesExtension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences (704) 922-2127 linda_minges@ncsu.eduGaston County, North Carolina
Updated on Dec 22, 2014
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