Photo of a pretty girl doing some marvelous refrigerator shelve cleaning using a sponge

Chicago Home and Lifestyles – Keeping your refrigerator clean and organized

Photo of a pretty girl doing some marvelous refrigerator shelve cleaning using a sponge

I have noticed after showing hundreds of houses over the years that even homes that seem quite tidy and clean will often have refrigerators that look and smell quite bad. I think sometimes the refrigerator is the last thing people think about when cleaning the house. It’s actually pretty easy with a minimum of effort to keep this appliance clean and sweet smelling, and also a safe spot to store your food.

The optimum temperature in the refrigerator is between 33- and 39-degrees Fahrenheit. Fridge less full? Go for the higher end. Fridge full in the summer? Low end. Keep the refrigerator no more than 70% full, optimally. Leave space for leftovers and new groceries. You also want air to circulate freely. Going through the fridge often is essential to keep it smelling fresh. I usually throw out my kitchen garbage every 3-4 days. This is the time to go through the fridge. Leftovers after 4 days? Gone! Old veggies and fruit? Gone, or made into smoothies or soup. 

Cleaning is an ongoing process. Wipe up spills immediately. Wipe down handles daily and outside weekly. Every three months empty it and take out all removable parts. Wash interior and parts with hot water and a little dishwashing soap. Need more power? Never use bleach or any other non-food friendly cleaner. I usually soak a paper towel in soapy water and let it set on any particular sticky messes. Use a little baking soda with a toothbrush for any needed scrubbing. Speaking of baking soda, it’s still a great deodorizer that’s safe around food! You can even sprinkle it on the bottom of your veggie and fruit bins. Cover with paper towels before loading in the produce. Vacuum underneath and behind, dust accumulating makes the appliance work harder. 

Put any leftovers in a sealed container or zipper bags. Never store open cans as they can transfer the can metal to the food once opened. Most fruit should not be refrigerated unless very ripe to extend life. Most root vegetables should be left in a cool dark place, not refrigerated. Make sure to cool down any hot leftovers before refrigerating. Do this within 2 hours. You can cool leftovers by spreading them out on a cookie sheet or in a container placed in an ice bath. This prevents food-borne illness. 

Organizing properly will also reduce the risk of food-borne illness. Reserve the top shelf for all foods ready to eat including leftovers. Milk, eggs, and dairy on middle shelves. Despite having been built in, these items do not belong in the door. Save the door for all your condiments. Go through these when you do your 3 month clean. Check for expiration dates. Wipe clean with warm water. All raw meat and fish go on the lowest shelf, leaving no chance to drip on any ready to eat food. Place meat and fish in an open container, glass or plastic, to further quarantine. Keep fruit and veggies separate so the ethylene gas from the fruit doesn’t spoil the veggies. 

So, with a little work you too can have a sweet-smelling refrigerator and you can sleep soundly knowing your family is safe! You’d be surprised how much food-borne illness is caused by improper food handling. Also, when you decide to sell your house, the Buyer’s agents won’t be wrinkling their noses when they open the door. 

Kathleen Weaver-Zech and Dean’s Team Chicago