Kitchen tips: tackling your refrigerator

by April Lisante
Posted 2/3/22

kitchen organization and cleanliness are trending - for a good reason.

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Kitchen tips: tackling your refrigerator


This is the time of year when the winter doldrums typically settle in.

We cope with darker days, frigid weather, and too much time stuck in the house.

It’s also often the time when, even as Covid and the flu continue to lurk, we let our guard down and forget about our health. We eat heavier comfort food, we don’t get out to exercise and we forget about some of the winter health hazards lurking where we least expect them – right in our own kitchens.

If you’re wondering what has me going off on a kitchen-cleaning tangent this week, it’s all that salmonella and listeria in the news. Yes, I had a few bags of Fresh Express salad hanging around in my veggie bin, and yes, I couldn’t help but think here we are wearing masks and taking precautions left and right, while sickness may be lurking right in the fridge.

If you’ve looked at social media lately, you might have noticed a trend toward kitchen organization and cleanliness. Veggie organizers, beeswax food wraps, earth-friendly containers. Some of it is over the top, like pantries that are so organized they deserve the cover of Martha Stewart’s Living magazine. Or refrigerators so pristine with their water bottles lined up and veggies all in a row that they look like Sub Zero ads. 

But right now, while we are all so germ-conscious and trying hard to stay healthy, there is a lot to be said about keeping our kitchens up to snuff - and germs at a distance. Organizing the fridge this winter really should be part of our health goals. Organizing allows us to see everything we have, get rid of everything that’s expired, and make room for more healthful foods to replace the holiday heavies.

If you haven’t taken a good look at your fridge since the holidays, it’s about time. Fridges should get the once-over several times a year and definitely every New Year, even before the official “spring cleaning” bug hits.

Jennifer Martin has what I’d probably say is my ideal job. She is the home organizer behind the local Spruce Organizing Co. who has fun helping local clients get their fridges, pantries and even basements, closets and kids’ rooms tidied up and cleaned. There’s not only a sense of satisfaction in getting organized, but a sense of commitment to a new way of living.

“Make it a ritual to completely clean out the fridge after the New Year,” said Martin, a Certified Home Organizer who serves clients from Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy and Germantown all the way to Center City. “The best thing to do is once a week when you go grocery shopping, you should empty the fridge [of food gone bad] and wash down the shelves. Quarterly, with the change of seasons, it makes sense to actually wash everything.”

If you don’t know where to begin, Martin breaks it all down and makes the chore a lot easier.

  • Take everything out of the refrigerator and start by looking at everything, especially condiments, for anything that is expired. That doesn’t just include things past their “Use By” date, it also means look at items that are already open and “past their prime.” (As a rule of thumb, “Best Before” means that’s the date after which the quality declines, whereas “Use By” is more of a safety warning. An expiration date typically means it should be thrown away by then, according to food safety organizations.)
  • Clean out the inside of the refrigerator shelving with warm soapy water and paper towels. Don’t forget the walls of the fridge, as well as the door shelving, which often takes a beating with condiment spills.
  • Remove all drawers and head to the sink, where the drawers should be cleaned with warm soapy water under a spray faucet, then dried before returning to the refrigerator.
  • When it is time to return the food to the fridge, take shelving temperature into consideration. This was a new concept for me, because many foods often don’t get stored where they should. For example, the door is the warmest part of the fridge and should be reserved for condiments, butter, soda and water. The lowest shelf is the coldest, meant for meats, eggs, milk and poultry. And the top shelf is also one of the warmest spots and should be reserved for leftovers and snacks.
  • Consider your vegetable drawers the workhorses of the fridge. Some can adjust humidity, making it better for veggies, while fruits should be kept at lower humidity. 
  • Invest in a set of glass storage containers. The containers you use to store items should also be part of the clean routine. Glass containers are by far the best, not only because they are better for the environment, but because plastic can also leach into foods. And glass containers can always be washed and reused.

Have fun with the project. You might find you end up investing in a small indoor, countertop veggie-growing tower for your kitchen, a fun thing to watch during the winter instead of watching lettuce rot in the fridge drawer. You also might discover that there are some really fun, colorful fridge organizer bins and containers that make the job easier. Any excuse to hit Home Goods is a good excuse for me.

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