We can’t live without our refrigerator especially in the Tropics. A properly organised fridge saves you time and you locate what you want with less effort. For hygienic purposes we have to clean it regularly. It is important to know how and how to ensure contents are kept fresh whilst fridge is being washed and cleaned.
1. Temperature varies in different parts of the fridge!
To ensure that your food is stored correctly and safely in the fridge, you might want to buy a fridge thermometer. Your fridge should be running between 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer is below zero.
As a quick rule of thumb, here are the safe storage temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit for various foods.
- Fish and Shellfish – 30 to 34
- Meat and Poultry – 32 to 36
- Dairy Products – 36 to 40
- Eggs – 38 to 40
- Produce – 40 to 45
I found these helpful tips from www.realsimple.com.
2. How to organise a fridge.
- Eggs do best where the temperature is most consistent—on the middle shelf. Store in the original cartons (don’t transfer to the fridge egg container).
- Milk tends to land on the top shelf, but it should be on the bottom, all the way in back, where it’s coldest.
- Yogurt, sour cream, and cottage cheese fare best on the bottom shelf for the same reason. Stack items on a turntable to keep everything accessible and expiration dates visible.
- Packaged raw meat should go on the super-cold bottom shelf. And if juices drip, they won’t contaminate the whole fridge.
- Vegetables stay fresh longer with a bit of humidity. The drawer labeled vegetables or high humidity is the moistest spot in the fridge. Store in the original packaging or in a plastic bag, loosely tied.
- Fruit belongs in the low humidity drawer (sometimes marked crisper). Keep in the original packaging or in a plastic bag, loosely tied (citrus is fine with no bag). Tip: Leave vegetables and fruits unwashed until you use them. Water can promote mold and cause bacteria to grow.
- Deli meats belong in the shallow meat drawer, which is slightly colder than the rest of the fridge, or (if there’s no such drawer) on the bottom shelf.
- Butter and soft cheeses don’t need to be super cold, so they can live in the dairy compartment on the door (the warmest part of the fridge). Place soft cheeses, like Brie and goat cheese, in an air-tight container after opening them.
- Condiments are generally high in vinegar and salt, which are natural preservatives. So ketchup, mayonnaise, and salad dressing are fine on the door. Same goes for pickles and jarred salsa. Olive and vegetable oils can remain in the pantry. But nut oils, like sesame and walnut oils, belong in the refrigerator, also on the door.
- Orange juice can be stored on the door, as long as it’s pasteurized. Fresh-squeezed should be stored on the bottom shelf.
In the past, we used many Tupperware containers for fridges and freezers. These are still useful but there are so many different brands and types of plastic boxes and containers to help you store left overs and organise inside the refrigerator. It is worthwhile investing in some good quality ones since they seal better and last longer.
3. Keeping the fridge clean.
The FIRST Rule is to clean up fresh spills immediately. This step saves time and effort since cleaning after spills dry up is laborious. It is no surprise that many types of bacteria grow quickly even in the fridge, resulting in food-borne illnesses.
Before reaching for that commercial spray bottle of cleaning liquid, consider some common household items which are suitable for cleaning.
- For general cleaning, sprinkle the area with baking soda and wipe with a damp cloth or sponge. Or mix a solution of equal parts water and either lemon juice or vinegar.
- Use toothpaste and a soft toothbrush to clean chrome fittings and those grimy gaps. (Thick strips or wads of white coloured micro-sponges from the Japanese department stores can be gentle and effective).
- Attack any mould and fungus with a paste of salt and vinegar.
4. How to clean a fridge.
Plan ahead as cleaning a fridge requires quite a bit of time (especially if your habit is to store everything in it).
If possible, try to run down as many items of your fresh consumables as possible before embarking on this project. A good holiday project for your helper if you travel often (a fridge should be fully washed at least once in 3 months if it has been regularly kept neat and clean).
Do I keep the fridge running whilst it is being cleaned or do I switch off the electrical supply?
This really depends on the brand of your fridge. Please check the operation manual for details or make a call to their Customer Service for verification.
Assemble all supplies. Coleman or Igloo coolers (or any other type of coolers) are helpful for this job. If you don’t possess one, a solution is given below under “Hints”. Fill a pail/basin with reusable towels, sponges, brushes, your favourite brand of cleaners, kitchen bleach (some supermarkets carry “Kao” kitchen bleach. I like this as it has only a faint smell of chlorine).
Our home-made citrus enyzme cleaner did not appeal to my helper but in recent months she has found that it effective and gentler on her hands. Nonetheless, it is not for heavy duty jobs and she will resort to commercial cleaners when the occasion calls for it. Click here to read more about DIY Enyzme Cleaners.
Clean one section of the Fridge at a time.
Detailed work is required for a thorough cleaning a fridge and this means time. Organising well adds much to efficiency. Hence, it is best to clean one section at a time. For e.g. clean the refrigerator section first and then the freezer section/s.
Once a section of the fridge has been chosen, empty it.
Place items on trays or in the cooler.
To catch water pools as items “sweat” whilst reaching room temperature, place these on trays on counter tops. Frozen items should be placed a cooler.
Wipe each item thoroughly with a clean cloth before replacing these into the fridge. Items may require washing if stains and oil are present.
Throw away any expired, mouldy or inedible food, bagging securely to prevent leakage or mould distribution.
The bi-monthly, monthly or quarterly refrigerator clean often alerts us to items we’ve completely forgotten. Resist that urge to keep it for possible future use! Throw them away.
Take out any shelving, drawers (e.g. crispers), or other removable surface areas from the refrigerator including those on the doors. In order to get the job done quicker, remove all shelving bit by bit. Placing in or near the kitchen sink, where it will be much easier to clean.
Wash the shelving, drawers, and other surfaces by hand. Make sure all chemicals and soap are well rinsed off. So that your shelves are protected against chipping, place them on clean bath towels. Use a stick to push towels into tight spaces to dry them.
Safety Tip: Never wash a cold glass shelf with hot water as the great temperature change will likely shatter the glass. Instead, use cold water or remove the shelf and let it come up to room temperature before washing it.
- For heavy-duty spills and/or stains, use some hot soapy water and let the item(s) soak before scrubbing. Using household ammonia diluted with hot water (1:5 ratio) has been suggested but I am not familiar with using ammonia so I would err on the side of caution since careless use can cause noxious poisonousness fumes and ammonia must be flushed away several times.
- Wash and drain. Turn the fan on to help faster drying. Wipe off any excess water with clean towels. Ensure all shelving, grill, etc. dry out completely before re-inserting them into the refrigerator.
Wipe the inside of the refrigerator with your preferred cleaning solution. Stubborn stains may require pre-soaking with a cleaning solution which has been sprayed onto a small piece of cloth. Clean all surfaces with a clean cloth or sponge.
Going green? Try using one of the following natural cleaning solutions:
- 2 tablespoons of baking soda and 1 quart hot water OR
- 1 part apple cider vinegar to 3 parts hot water.
Clean the doors and rubber gasket too.
Don’t forget to pull the fridge out and clean the top and the back. We tend to forget about these. Below are some photos showing how dirty it can get otherwise. You will be surprised by how quickly dust and dirt builds up! If the fridge is not pulled out, the walls and the back of the fridge gets awfully dirty too.
- Line the top of your fridge with some brown or mahjong paper as grease from Asian cooking tends to settle there. Change these sheets at least twice a year.
- Note in the photo above that the grid on the back of the fridge needs to be vacuumed to clean away the the dirt. These grids allow air circulation to cool the compressor and if air flow is chocked, the compressor will overheat and burn. Replacing the fridge’s compressor is a very expensive repair.
- If you don’t have a cooler or your freezer contents are more than what your cooler can hold, take a large plastic bag and a bath towel to create your own cooler bag. Since the items are frozen, if they are covered well with both towel and plastic bag, items should keep cold till you have completed washing the whole fridge!