It’s probably one of the least popular tasks in any home, right up there with cleaning the oven or picking up spilled garbage, but cleaning out and reorganizing your fridge regularly is one of the most effective things you can do to improve the hygiene of your kitchen and reduce your and your family’s chances of picking up a whole host of very nasty bugs. Not to mention that the more often you do it and the more effectively you organize your fridge, the more quickly you will be able to do it, and the less horrible and arduous task you will have ahead of you.
So, with this in mind, what are the five top tips you should bear in mind next time you grit your teeth and open the fridge door with your cleaning cloths in hand?
Cooking temperature zones
This is the way that restaurants and professional chefs and caterers organize their fridges, putting food safety absolutely first. This method involves putting the food food that needs no cooking at all – leftovers, soft drinks, cheese and yoghurts – on the top shelf, and going downwards by shelf, with foods that need to be cooked at the highest temperatures – such as chicken – on the bottom shelf. Cross-contamination of foods is most likely to happen by dripping downwards due to gravity, which this method minimizes.
Reserve the door for condiments
Despite the egg-shaped indentations and milk bottle-sized shelves in many refrigerator doors, the door is unsurprisingly the warmest part of the fridge. To maximize the shelf life of your milk and reduce the chance of salmonella in your eggs, keep the door for your ketchup, mustard and maple syrup.
Think carefully about your use of drawers
These are often referred to as “vegetable drawers” because they are designed to keep food at a specific humidity, which is ideal for leafy veg. Unfortunately they are also usually at the very bottom of the fridge. If you have two drawers, it is worth designating one for leafy veg and the other for raw meat. If one drawer is higher than the other, choose the lower drawer as the meat drawer, and clean it out with washing-up liquid and hot water every 2-3 days.
Create your own meat bin
If you only have one drawer in your refrigerator, or you need both for fruit and veg, you can make yourself an impromptu ”meat bin” out of a clear plastic trough or pail to minimise the risk of drips from meat and fish contaminating the rest of your comestibles. This will also make cleanup much easier in case of a spill of blood or fluid. Position it as low in your fridge as the drawers etc allow, and wash it out every 2-3 days in the same way as you would with a meat drawer. An opaque bin would work just as well for hygiene reasons, but a clear one makes it easier to plan your shopping for the week ahead at a glance.
Set your fridge at the correct temperature
Everyone has had the unpleasant experience of finding a partially frozen cucumber or bag of carrot sticks in the back of their vegetable drawer. While keeping your fridge temperature low is key to prevent the growth of bacteria, most food becomes absolutely inedible once any ice forms on or within it. The ideal range is 35-38 Fahrenheit or about 1.67-3.33 Celsius. While many modern fridges come with a digital temperature display, you can also buy a freestanding fridge thermometer. The great advantage of this is that it allows you to check the temperature in different parts of the fridge and select the coldest places for most “potentially dangerous” foodstuffs such as milk and meat.