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You might be harbouring a germ criminal in your kitchen. Yes, we’re talking your fridge. You may have the smartest appliance in the world, capable of multi-tasking everything from ice making to letting you know you’re out of milk to one day diapering your kid – but when it hasn’t been cleaned in a while, you have the makings of a real mess on your hands.
If you haven’t stacked your foods correctly, or emptied it and washed it thoroughly, or just ignored for a while, you are setting yourself and your fridge up for failure as it can be one of the most germ infested places in the home.
Fridges get no respect – food is crammed every which way, in all the wrong places, and stuff gets lost in the crowd of leftovers. A fridge is rife for a bug buffet. Add to that people who needlessly stand in front of the open fridge door, wondering why they are there and not realizing the damage being done to the foods inside when cold air escapes.
Stuff is stored in fridges and forgotten for months – until they turn into some weird science experiment. Ever take a look at what happens to blueberries when they’re abandoned? Or heaven forbid a tub of yogurt? Eeek!
According to Prevention Magazine, your fridge can really make you sick without you even being aware of it. Some pointers – like placing raw meat on an upper shelf to defrost – are no-brainers, but people forget this and those slimy juices of defrosted protein can successfully drip down to the foods below, contaminating everything in their way.
Some may see a packed fridge as a sign of success, but ask any microbiologist, and it’s a day of diarrhea just waiting to happen. “Cold air needs to circulate to keep food chilled and bulldoze bacteria, and it can’t do that in a crowded environment,” notes prevention.com. “Plus, in an overstuffed fridge, it’s hard to tell what’s fresh and what’s been in there since the Reagan administration.”
Just like a closet, refrigerators are usually very overwhelming notes celebrity chef Mareya Ibrahim, author of Eat Like You Give a Fork. Ibrahim says that, just by keeping your fridge organized properly, you keep your family healthier. The key is in stacking it properly.
Consumer Reports notes most foods last longer, and stay fresher, when stacked properly. And don’t wash anything before stacking – germs love moisture, so you’re only inviting trouble by washing those grapes before putting them away.
And even if your fridge looks clean, danger lurks in the tiniest crevices. Research from website The Healthy shows that, even if the fruit and vegetable drawers appear to be clean and sterile, “they could be hiding a mass of dangerous microorganisms, including E. coli, salmonella, and more.” Ewwww. Which means you have to make sure you thoroughly rinse anything coming out of there before you ingest it, or cook with it.
Temperature is key. According to Whirlpool Canada, “the optimum temperature range for storing fresh food is between 3-4.5ºC.”
What if there’s a power failure. The last thing you should do is open the fridge door! Keep it closed as the cold inside – especially in the freezer section – should keep things safe until power is shortly returned. If not, plan on cooking everything, and throwing out what you can’t eat or use right away.
Lastly, there are some foods that should never be placed in the fridge, including bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and garlic. Bread, too – unless in the freezer.
We reached out to Whirlpool Canada for some refrigerator recommendations. With spring cleaning on everyone’s minds, keep this list handy:
Q:How many times should a fridge cleaned out?
A: At least once a week! “Cleaning the inside of your refrigerator isn’t fun, but it is essential. Wiping down shelves, drawers and interior walls can help eliminate stains and odours. It also helps clear away mold spores or bacteria that can spoil food.”
Q:How should food be stacked?
A: Raw meats, dairy and other perishables are generally stored on lower shelves to keep them as cold as possible. Avoid cutting up meats in advance – it speeds spoilage – and consider placing meats in glass or plastic containers to prevent juices from leaking onto other foods.
Dairy products like milk, yogurt, sour cream and cottage cheese should also be stored on lower shelves, with milk placed toward the back. Butter and soft cheeses are an exception – they can go into the dairy section on your refrigerator’s door.
Fruits and vegetables are best kept in a high humidity environment, so they should be stored in your fridge’s vegetable, crisper or high humidity drawer.
Q: How to keep other food items fresh and where should eggs go?
A: “Eggs need consistent temperatures to stay fresh, so the middle shelf is the best place for them. Put any deli meats and cheeses into the deli drawer so they stay chilled. (If your refrigerator doesn’t have a deli drawer, these items can be stored on the lowest shelf of your fridge.)
Condiments, nut oils and pasteurized juices can all be stored in the door – while this is the warmest part of your fridge, these items will still be well preserved. If your juice is fresh-squeezed, make room for it on the lowest fridge shelf – the cold temperatures will slow fermentation”.