Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kitchen Organization, Librarian-Style: The Fridge/Freezer Part 1, Cleaning

Your fridge:  It's the place that keeps your food from spoiling, prolongs the life of perishables... it's a workhorse in your kitchen.

Danielle from The Frugal Lawyer has asked about the best way to ensure that food is kept safe while cleaning and how to utilize food so that it doesn't spoil before consumption.  Hopefully this post will help answer some questions and will help some of you out there figure out better ways to store food cleanly in your fridge!

In this series of posts we will deal with the following issues with the refrigerator: 

  • Cleaning
  • Efficiency
  • Space Utilization
  • Storage
  • Leftovers
Today we're going to focus on cleaning.  Keeping a clean fridge not only makes it more fun to look in your fridge, but it also helps your family to stay healthy and reduces the risk of cross-contamination.

For Danielle, she writes that her biggest issues are making sure her food doesn't spoil when she cleans the fridge.  When she does get around to cleaning, she has problems making sure that the food that she leaves on the counter doesn't melt/go bad while cleaning.

Danielle, I would recommend the following for your situation:

A timer
All-Purpose Cleaner
10-12 rags
Spray bottle (optional)
Scrub brush
Cooler (borrow one from friends/family if you don't have one on hand)
Lunchbox ice packs (if they're already in your freezer)

First, fill a sink halfway with water.  Pour 1-2 capfuls of all-purpose cleaner in (I like Mrs. Meyers All-Purpose Cleaner but Clorox Greenworks works as well) and mix to combine.  Or, if you're lazy like me, pour it in while the water's filling the sink.   If you have a spray bottle, put 1-2 caps of the cleaner in and fill with water as well.

Next, pick either the fridge or freezer.  Open the fridge and figure out what needs to be refrigerated for more than 30 minutes.  Milk should be kept cold, mustard and pickles - probably not.  Place the items that need to be refrigerated in the cooler and top with the ice packs.  Take the rest of the fridge's contents and place them on your counters or a nearby table.

Place half of the rags in the cleaning solution and start taking a good look at the empty fridge.

NOW, before you do anything else - set your timer for 20 minutes. 

First, while your rags are still clean, give the handle of the fridge a good swipe.  Open the fridge and give it a good look to identify problem areas.

Do your crisper drawers need cleaning?  Use a vacuum or dustbuster (or turn them upside down in a trash can) to remove crumbs and dirt.  Pull the drawers out (if possible) and give them a good swish around the cleaning solution and wash any gunk out of them.  Dry them and set them on the counter or floor.

Next, go from top to bottom.  If you need to, wash the walls of the fridge.  Do the shelves need cleaning?  If something is stuck on, spray the area with your spray bottle and let it sit while you work on other areas.  By the time you're done with the rest, it should wipe off with ease.  Use baking soda if it's really stubborn.

Don't forget to wipe off the condiment and butter shelves.

When the timer goes off, STOP.  You want to do your best to clean in this time slot because it means that you won't get overwhelmed with the task.  If it looks pretty good (e.g. there are no stains on the shelves and it smells clean), wipe off the shelves if they're still wet.

Shortcut:  If you're like me and very, very lazy when it comes to deep-down cleaning, take the drawers out and vacuum the inside of the fridge.  Then, spray everything liberally with all-purpose cleaner.  Let it sit for 2-3 minutes and wipe.

Now... before you put everything back in, take a good look at the empty fridge.  Are the shelves in the fridge  working for your storage needs?  Most fridge shelves are adjustable, so play around with moving them to see if it helps you to store items more efficiently.  Consider putting a box or bowl of baking soda in the back of the fridge to reduce odors.

This empty fridge is now a clean haven in which to store foods that will encourage health and happiness in your home.  Are the foods that you're putting back into the fridge expired?  Are they being used regularly?  Are they properly stored?  If the answer to any of these questions is NO, I strongly urge you to reconsider placing them back in the fridge.

If you find yourself with a ton of condiments that you rarely use, consider using them in a marinade for meats or veggies (theme them by region - South Asian, East Asian, Mexican, etc.).  I find that some condiments work really well in slow cooker recipes as well and things like Italian dressing can be used for pasta salads.

Are you storing your food properly?  With the exception of some methods for aging meat, everything should be covered adequately.  Many people now use glass dishes with plastic or glass lids as they can go in oven, freezer, fridge and microwave with no concern for plastic leaching (take the plastic lids off before heating, though!).  I use basic square Ziploc storage containers that stack well - but I do wait for foods to cool before storing them and I never microwave (I transfer to a plate/bowl).  If you have so many storage containers that they can't fit in the fridge, pare down.

One method that I've seen by Angela over at My Year Without Spending is an "Eat Me" shelf - if you have leftovers or food about to expire, make room on a shelf and label it so that the family knows those items need to be eaten first.  Leftovers can go there right after dinner, and you can keep a rotating fruit bowl there as well to encourage healthy eating.  After dinner each night, look through the fridge for items to be added to the shelf, and make a game out of constructing lunches to take to work/school from them.

Finally, start placing the items in your cooler back in the fridge.  Evaluate each one to make sure it deserves a space in your fridge (Is it expired?/is it healthy?/do we use it?) and go from there.

Later, rinse, and repeat with your freezer - and don't forget to clean your ice maker (if you have one).  Keep with the 20 minute timer - you can do plenty of damage in that time and get a darned clean freezer.  If you need to defrost your freezer, just add extra ice to the cooler and you should be fine as long as you're not opening the cooler every few minutes.  Remember, the goal is not perfection - it's sustainability.

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

Danielle said...

Fantastic! I will attempt to follow these instructions. Hopefully next weekend. I swear.