Routt County CSU Extension: Spring clean your refrigerator |

Routt County CSU Extension: Spring clean your refrigerator

How will you spend your weekends once the ski season ends? For me, it’s too cold to bike, too early to garden and way too muddy to hike — so I do a bit of spring cleaning. My kitchen gets a lot of use, so scrubbing the kitchen, including a serious refrigerator clean-up, is the first thing on my to-do list.

Consider spring cleaning your refrigerator this month. Not only will the fridge be spotless, but you will also be protecting your family from getting sick. Old, neglected food items, even in a cold refrigerator, can harbor bacteria and molds that are harmful. Many consumers blame the restaurant where they last ate for bouts of food-poisoning, but in many cases it came from food in their own refrigerator.

So let’s get started cleaning that refrigerator.

• Take the time to toss those foods that have been hibernating in your refrigerator all winter. Sort through those leftovers hiding in margarine tubs, bits of cheese covered in mold, wilted vegetables and those almost empty bottles of condiments from last summer’s barbecue. As you sort the good from the bad, don’t bother using the sniff test to determine if a food item is safe—pathogenic bacteria won’t have an odor.

• Check the product dates on your foods. It can be confusing to understand dates of food products that state “sell-by,” “best if used by,” “freeze by” and “guaranteed fresh until.” Many of these dates are meant for manufacturers and retailers and not for consumers. According to the USDA, a “sell-by” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. So make sure that you buy the product before the date expires. A “best if used” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. A “use-by” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product. Despite the confusion, to be safe, foods past the expiration date should be thrown out.

• When cleaning the refrigerator, wipe down shelves, drawers and surfaces with warm, soapy water. Don’t use harsh chemical cleaners or bleach because they can damage the seals and leave odors. And don’t forget to put a box of opened baking soda in the back of the refrigerator, and replace it every three months to help eliminate odors.

• You also need to get down on your hands and knees to clean the front grill and vacuum the condenser coils. This helps to keep the refrigerator free of dust and allows airflow to the condenser for best cooling and efficiency.

• This is also a good time to check the temperature of your refrigerator. If it is too warm, the temperature will encourage the growth of harmful bacteria in your food. Your refrigerator should be kept at 40 degrees or below. The best way to know is to use a refrigerator thermometer, which can be found in the housewares section of most stores.

Happy spring cleaning.

Karen Massey is a registered dietitian nutritionist and family and consumer science Extension agent with Colorado State University Extension in Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 or email for more information.

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