Cleaning the Fridge – Tossing Out Old Food and Leftovers

Cleaning the fridge is never one of those things that mothers (or fathers) actually plan to do. It never ever makes the handwritten to-do list, because it is a dreadful chore. No, instead – what happens is that you open the fridge to get something simple out – such as butter, and realize that some crazy person has stuffed it behind the grapes in the veggie tray. Then, when you take out the veggies that are on top of the butter, you notice that another crazy person has apparently spilled an entire jar of yogurt that has congealed into a sticky mess on top of your fruit and veggies. So you start removing one item, only to find something moldy or unrecognizable beneath it, which causes you to dig even further. Then, suddenly you are emptying the entire contents of the fridge into a trash bag and notice that the jelly jars in the door are for some reason stuck solidly to the shelves. Which means you have to clean that too. By this time, you have completely forgotten what you needed the butter for and are instead cleaning the fridge with hot water and bleach in the hopes that you can avoid a salmonella outbreak in your home.

By far the easiest way to clean a fridge is to do the whole thing at once. Many people like to defrost the fridge, but if you have a family – this is nearly an impossible task. Your first step should be to empty all of the contents of the refrigerator. This way they can all sit on the table and you can check dates and clean off containers before putting them back. Trying to clean underneath and around all the items in your refrigerator is more hassle than its worth.

Once the fridge is empty, you should take out all of the removable accessories such as drawers and shelves. This way you can easily wash these items in hot water. Most experts recommend that you use an antibacterial soap, or wash the parts with a solution of vinegar and water or even baking soda and water to help remove any mold residue that may be left behind. The key factor in cleaning these components is to make sure that they are completely dry before putting them back in the refrigerator.

Everything in the fridge that is stationary should also be wiped down with hot water and some sort of disinfectant. Whether you use a diluted bleach mixture or antibacterial dish soap is entirely up to you – and likely a matter of what you have on hand. The hot water makes it easy to remove anything that may be sticky and stuck to the inside surfaces of the refrigerator.

Before you place any food items back, you might want to lie down paper towels to line the bottoms of drawers and shelves. This way, the next time somebody in your home spills something in the fridge and doesn’t tell you, you will have a quick way to clean out the area without having a sticky icky mess on your hands.

BEFORE putting anything back, you should refer to this table of refrigeration food storage guidelines to make sure that you aren’t cross contaminating your clean fridge.

(Table Courtesy of the FDA – )

Storage Times For Refrigerated Foods

Ground Meat, Ground Poultry, and Stew Meat

Ground beef, turkey, veal, pork, lamb 1-2 days
Stew meats 1-2 days

Fresh Meat (Beef, Veal, Lamb, and Pork)

Steaks, chops, roasts 3-5 days
Variety meats(Tongue, kidneys, liver, heart, chitterlings) 1-2 days

Fresh Poultry

Chicken or turkey, whole 1-2 days
Chicken or turkey, parts 1-2 days
Giblets 1-2 days

Bacon and Sausage

Bacon 7 days
Sausage, raw from meat or poultry 1-2 days
Smoked breakfast links, patties 7 days
Summer sausage labeled “Keep Refrigerated” Unopened, 3 months;
Opened, 3 weeks
Hard sausage (such as Pepperoni) 2-3 weeks

Ham, Corned Beef

Ham, canned, labeled “Keep Refrigerated” Unopened, 6-9 months;
Opened, 3-5 days
Ham, fully cooked, whole 7 days
Ham, fully cooked, half 3-5 days
Ham, fully cooked, slices 3-4 days
Corned beef in pouch with pickling juices 5-7 days

Hot Dogs and Luncheon Meats

Hot dogs Unopened package, 2 weeks;
Opened package, 1 week
Luncheon meats Unopened package, 2 weeks;
Opened package, 3-5 days

Deli and Vacuum-Packed Products

Store-prepared (or homemade) egg, chicken, tuna, ham, and macaroni salads 3-5 days
Pre-stuffed pork, lamb chops, and chicken breasts 1 day
Store-cooked dinners and entrees 3-4 days
Commercial brand vacuum-packed dinners with/USDA seal, unopened 2 weeks

Cooked Meat, Poultry, and Fish Leftovers

Pieces and cooked casseroles 3-4 days
Gravy and broth, patties, and nuggets 3-4 days
Soups and Stews 3-4 days

Fresh Fish and Shellfish

Fresh Fish and Shellfish 1-2 days


Fresh, in shell 3-5 weeks
Raw yolks, whites 2-4 days
Hard-cooked 1 week
Liquid pasteurized eggs, egg substitutes Unopened, 10 days;
Opened, 3 days
Cooked egg dishes 3-4 days

Remember, no matter how much it breaks your heart to get rid of the leftovers from 4 nights ago – you definitely NEED to, especially when you are cleaning out your fridge.

The good news is that once the fridge is clean, it will look like brand new again. Sadly, it will also probably be empty, and you will notice just how bright the interior bulbs really shine. Additionally, you will at least have a good, keen feeling knowing that there won’t be any ugly germs left in the fridge that will harm your family.

Some of the more popular homemaking gurus such as Martha Stewart, recommend that you clean your fridge once a week. You and I both know, this probably isn’t going to happen. Most people clean their fridge when they find something unidentifiable, or happen across moldy lunchmeat. Even so, you might want to get in the habit of wiping things down in the fridge at least once a week so that when you fridge cleaning day becomes unavoidable – it wont be such a dubious chore.



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