Keeping your refrigerator clean and well-organized will go a long way towards preventing a nasty bug from hitting your household.
Proper management of the contents inside will also help prevent food from spoiling prematurely, which helps your budget work harder.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about maintaining this vital part of every kitchen.
Maintain the optimal temperature
Food in the fridge should always be chilled at 5C or lower – somewhere between 1C and 4C is ideal.
If you have the option to easily tweak the temperature, you might consider lowering it after putting a big shop inside. If you place a lot of room temperature items inside at once, you’ll need the fridge to work a little harder.
If your refrigerator is starting to look a little empty, however, you can increase the temperature (still keeping it below 5C) in order to save on energy.
If you’re going to get in the habit of changing the temperature around though, make sure you don’t forget to adapt it as needed!
You might like to invest in a – mercury-free – fridge thermometer if you don’t have one built-in. Just place it on the bottom shelf and get in the habit of checking it from time to time.
Cleaning your refrigerator
Although it’s a bit of pain, this is one of those jobs that’s just worth working into your general kitchen cleaning routine.
If anything spills, wipe it up straight away. You don’t want anything getting gunky in there.
Similarly, keep a close eye on best before dates and put anything that’s expired in the bin as soon as possible.
Every few months we recommend removing all of the shelves and side drawers, and giving them a good rinse in hot water.
If you’re going to use a cleaning agent, make sure it’s safe to use with food. A squirt of washing up liquid and a sponge wipe will be more than enough most of the time though.
Leave the internal units to dry, then place back inside.
While everything is out and you’ve space to work with though, give everything inside a good wipe – sides, rear, the lot. Use an old toothbrush to get at any hard-to-reach spots.
This is also a good opportunity to wipe down the external handles and the main door as well. We tend to do this quickly once a week anyway, and just as part of the weekly kitchen clean-up.
As a final tip, consider running a vacuum cleaner around the vents a few times a year.
Doing so will clear out all of the dust and detritus that inevitably builds up over time, and will help improve the energy performance and longevity of your appliance.
Managing your shelving
There are some well-established rules for how you should separate items across the shelves in your refrigerator.
The following guidelines will help you organize everything safely:
Top Shelf – If it doesn’t need to be cooked, put it here. You should also store any opened but unfinished cans in this area of the refrigerator. Only put them in here if they have a resealable lid though, as once exposed to air the tin will begin spoiling its contents.
Middle Shelf – Dairy items like cheese and eggs go here. If you don’t have a dedicated side drawer for milk, it can also be stored on the shelf. Watch out for leaks when laying big bottles down though.
Bottom Shelf – Any items like meat or fish should be stored on the lowest shelf. The main thinking behind this is to ensure that nothing can accidentally drip onto produce that won’t need cooking – and that you might ingest to potentially disastrous effect.
Bottom Drawers – Use these to store all of your fresh fruit and vegetables. We have one on the left and one on the right, and assign one for each food type.*
Side Drawers – Place items like bulky milk containers here, as well as any condiments and sauces that you use.
(*Mixing the two is generally not a good idea. Fruit produces more ethylene than vegetables and ripens faster as a result. If you place particularly fast-ripening fruit near your veg, the latter will spoil more quickly)
If you’re careless when it comes to separating meat from other items, it’s only a matter of time until someone in your household gets sick.
As already mentioned, storing these goods on the bottom shelf is the easiest way to avoid the majority of potential problems.
It’s important as well to keep meat and fish separate from one another. Store each type together, but with the two separated in the same area of the fridge.
If you’re concerned that any packaging has been breached between the store and your home (check carefully first), put it in a container before placing it on the bottom shelf.
Beware the smell test when it comes to usage dates! Not all bacteria release an odor that we can detect, so there’s no guarantee that the meat is still safe to cook and consume.
Although there’s currently plenty of debate on whether use-by dates play it too safe these days, it really is best to just stick to the producer’s guidance.
We’re sticklers for avoiding food waste, and often have to manage a lot of leftovers in the refrigerator.
Again, the rules are pretty clear for how to safely handle these items:
- If it’s uncooked food prep, put it in a sealed container. Store it on a shelf as described in the shelving section further up the page.
- Want to tuck into some of tonight’s dinner tomorrow? Let it cool to room temperature completely, and again store it in an airtight container. Storing within two hours and eating within three days is a good general target to aim for.
Aside from bacterial issues, placing anything other than room-temperature items back in the refrigerator will affect the overall cooling operation of the appliance.
That should be everything you need to know to get this crucial part of the kitchen tidily – and safely – organized.
If you’ve any tips of your own, sign up and share them with us in the comments.
Mark’s a lifelong food fanatic and spent ten years working as an entertainment journalist. He now combines his love of food, drink and writing as the founder and editor of Viva Flavor. Read more