March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
When it comes to keeping your food fresh and safe, your refrigerator is your best friend. Yet we don't always give it the attention it deserves. If you can't remember the last time you gave your fridge a good wipe down — or it's so stuffed you can't find a thing in it — it could be time for an overhaul.
Here's how to get a cleaner, healthier and more organized fridge in three simple steps:
1. Keep It Safe
Set the temperature in your refrigerator below 40°F. This keeps food cold enough to prevent bacterial growth, which can cause food poisoning. If your refrigerator doesn't have a built-in thermometer, an appliance thermometer placed on the center shelf also will work.
2. Keep It Fresh
Making sure foods are at their peak of freshness not only protects your family from food poisoning, it also helps your food taste better.
- Schedule a weekly freshness check: Once a week, toss all spoiled leftovers and packaged foods that are past their expiration date. While most leftover food is generally safe for about four days, freshness can vary from food to food. The Home Food Safety program's app, Is My Food Safe?, can tell you exactly how long you can safely store everything from soup to steak.
- Wrap it right: Make sure all meat, poultry and seafood are either tightly wrapped or stored in sealed containers. This will ensure that their juices don't leak and contaminate other foods.
- Assign foods prime real estate: Your refrigerator is specifically designed to help you store foods for maximum freshness:
- Condiments: The door is the warmest part of your refrigerator, making it best for storing long shelf-life items.
- Orange juice: Orange juice tastes best when it's kept cold, so skip the door and stow it on an interior shelf instead
- Butter: The butter keeper in your fridge door might look like the perfect place to stash your butter, but it's not cold enough to keep it fresh. Since butter can pick up off flavors quickly, keep it protected in its original wrapper or in a covered dish inside your fridge
- Milk: Store milk where it's coldest, specifically the back of the bottom shelf.
- Yogurt: As long as it's tightly covered, you can store yogurt in the interior of your fridge up to 10 days past the "sell by" date.
- Eggs: Keep eggs in their original cartons in the center of the fridge.
- Deli meat: The meat drawer delivers an additional blast of cold air. That makes it the ideal place for highly perishable deli meats and cheeses.
- Packaged raw meat: To prevent dripping which can contaminate other foods, store packaged raw meat on the bottom shelf.
- Produce: Store fruits and vegetables in the crisper drawer. If yours has dual controls, adjust them to allow for higher humidity for vegetables and lower humidity for fruits.
3. Keep It Clean
Nothing spreads bacteria faster than a dirty fridge. Here's how to germ-proof yours:
- Think soap and water: Once a week, give your refrigerator a thorough cleaning by wiping down all shelves and compartments with hot, soapy water. Then rinse well and dry thoroughly. Check all bottles and jars for drips and rinse and dry those as well.
- Wipe it up: Spills can spread bacteria fast. Between cleanings, immediately wipe up any leaks or spills with hot, soapy water.
- Get organized: Make food easy to find by storing leftovers in clear glass containers. Placing smaller items in the front and taller items in the back can also help.
- Freshen it: Keep an open box of baking soda in your fridge so it will always smell clean and fresh.