Did you know that November 15 is National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day?  What better way to get ready for the holidays than to make sure your fridge is in the best shape to start storing all that great food of the season?

I thought I’d take the opportunity to share the best tips I have, not only on how to clean your fridge (and keep it clean!) but some good tips about food storage and safety.   Let’s face it:  We can all afford to have a cleaner and more organized fridge, right?  Maybe a tip or two here will be something you can try in your home.

THE CLEAN OUT:

1) The best way to clean your fridge is to start by turning off the cooling mechanism, and clearing it out completely.  Set up a cooler or two to hold your food for about an hour (more motivation to finish the job quickly, right?).   If you don’t want to turn off the refrigeration, just be sure to work quickly, so you don’t waste too much energy. For the clean out I did, we kept it on, worked quickly, and closed the door between phases of cleaning.

2) Warm sudsy water will be your best friend, and after washing, use cloths or paper towels at hand to wipe surfaces dry.  Take the shelves and drawers out to clean in your sink or even your tub if you can. In this (and many) fridges, the glass directly above the crisper drawers comes out. It’s the best way to get at cleaning the track that the shelf sits in, which I always find to be a bit grimy!

3) Start cleaning at the top; crumbs and spills will keep working to the bottom, and you won’t have to re-clean a shelf you’ve already cleaned.

4) You’ll be surprised (and possibly disgusted) at what has taken over the surfaces of your fridge. Some things leak and just leave a gelatinous ring around them… seeming nothing like the original product itself. One of the best tools I used last time I cleaned my fridge is a nylon (hard plastic) pan scraper, which allow me to get decent leverage on gently removing the ring, but also careful enough not to break the glass.

pan scraper

5) Wipe down the walls (I mean, seriously, how do these get stains on them?) Also, behind the crisper drawers, things seem to fall and die.  Be sure to reach back there and give that area a good wipe down, as well.

6) The gasket (the rubber frame that surrounds the door to make a tight seal) also needs to be cleaned. Use a mixture of water and white vinegar, or antibacterial spray and a rag to manipulate into the creases and wipe out all the crumbs that land in there, too. Wipe all the way around the door.

7) Don’t forget to vacuum the coils and the bottom of the fridge for better efficiency, and to pull out the tray on the bottom of the fridge. It’s gross, and needs to be cleaned.

8) When you’re done cleaning, leave it open a bit longer to dry out, and be sure to remember to set the thermostat back to cool if you turned it off.  And add a fresh box of baking soda to help absorb odors.

9) Consider using a product like Fridgecoasters, which I use in my fridge (not being paid by them to write this, by the way).  You know those cardboard-y coasters you get at a bar? Imagine ones designed for the shelves and bins in your fridge. They help absorb spills, and keep the clean up process for your fridge much easier.  I love using them, and change them a couple of times a year (especially the crisper bin ones… they really get a work out with all the fresh produce we use), and I really like that they come in a number of attractive patterns.  Here is what our fridge looks like, with the Fridge Coasters at work:

fridge coaster collage

THE TOSS OUT:

1) Check expirations before you put anything in the cooler for safe keeping while you’re cleaning… don’t take up space for things that should be tossed immediately.

2) Not only are expiration dates important, but sometimes products will have a “Use within xx time after opening.”

3) The door is where small volume products go to die.  2 tablespoons left of jelly, one squeeze of ketchup.  Things that look a bit browner than ideal.  Seriously…say good bye to these, and put replacements on your shopping list.  Why are you spending good real estate on products you won’t love using, or won’t have enough to use when you need it.

4)  Not sure if you should still keep something?  Why not try looking it up on stilltasty.com, the “ultimate shelf life guide”?

5) And, let’s face it: some plastic storage containers just aren’t worth saving if it means opening them up and dealing with a mold-fest. Just toss it.

The best way for me to show you how these tips can help is to share a real clean out that I did with a client. My client was nice enough to let me share her fridge pictures, which show a great Before and After of taking the cleaning and tossing tips and putting them to work:

Before:

Before Collage

The doors and drawers all needed a good cleaning:

cleaning

After:

After Collage

What we did:

  • We scrubbed a lot. Everything was in the need of a deep clean, and a lot of warm, sudsy water helped.

  • We tossed some leftovers, but this family does a good job of going through their leftovers, so the covered dishes on the top shelf are sure to be gone within a couple of days.

  • We consolidated items that could be consolidated, and we got rid of anything expired or looking questionable

  • We rearranged items on the door, to have them sorted a bit more logically: sauces, savory items, other condiments, etc. all grouped together.

I promise you: in less than an hour, you will make such great progress on one of the most important appliances in your home that you can’t help but feel better about the new found healthy and efficient space you’ve created… just in time to fill it for the holidays!

Good luck!

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