Weekend Project: Clean Out the Fridge

by in Healthy Tips, January 2, 2009

Out with the old, in with the new! Make time this weekend to root out all those unrecognizable foods hiding in your refrigerator and get a clean, healthy start to the year.

Keep these basic tips in mind:

Are you in or out?
Check foods for expiration and “use by” dates. Toss anything that is expired, leaking, looks or smells weird, or has been in there for longer than you can remember.

If an item’s expiration date is approaching, place it in front of the fridge and find an easy recipe to use it in. Freezing foods may also be an option. Use this chart to learn more about cold storage for specific foods.

Remember to clean up those crumbs, sticky spills and any grime build-up on the shelves — and don’t forget about the produce drawers! (And because this is where you keep your edibles, consider more natural cleaning solutions.)

Take your temperature
A recent survey found that most consumers don’t understand the consequences of storing foods at an incorrect temperature. Food stored in a refrigerator with a temperature higher than 40°F spoils faster and can make you sick.

So how can you tell if your refrigerator is cold enough? Invest in a refrigerator thermometer. Set it on a shelf in the middle of the fridge; it should read between 33° and 40°F. Refrigerator temperatures fluctuate and will vary with how much food is stored inside so keep an eye on the thermometer and try not to jam pack your fridge. Resist the temptation to stand in front of an open refrigerator while you decide what you want — this wastes cold air and energy.

What goes where?
Organization is key! Keep similar foods together so you can keep track of what you have. Some other ideas:

  • Keep highly perishable foods like meat, fish, dairy in the coldest areas (the bottom-rear is best)
  • Store raw meats in a plastic bag on the bottom shelf in case juices leak and drip
  • Place prepared foods and leftovers on higher shelves, far away from raw meats
  • Store eggs on shelves, not in the door where they spoil quicker
  • Place fruits and vegetables in crisper drawers

Restocking must-haves
Once you ditch the old stuff, time to restock. Add these to your shopping list:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • 100% fruit juice
  • All natural fruit spread
  • Yogurt or cottage cheese
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat cheese
  • Natural peanut butter
  • Nonfat or low-fat milk, soy milk or almond milk
  • Trans fat-free margarine spread
  • Whole wheat bread and English muffins
  • Versatile condiments: mustard, salsa, vinaigrette salad dressing, reduced sodium soy sauce, organic ketchup, 1 bottle of a favorite BBQ or teriyaki sauce
  • 2 open boxes of baking soda to keep everything smelling fresh (one each for the fridge and freezer)

For more information about food storage and safety, check out Fightbac.org.

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