When was the last time you cleaned out your fridge? Last week? Month? Year? You could be inviting foodborne pathogens and a number of other issues into your fridge by not cleaning it often. Our refrigerators are where we store what we eat at a safe and controlled temperature, but if your fridge isn’t being regularly cleaned, your food could be unsafe to eat. Also, you could be wasting money on wasted food and higher energy bills. To maintain good health by preventing the spread of foodborne illness, reduce food waste, and save money, the experts recommend cleaning your refrigerator often. But just how often should it be done? Keep reading to find out how long is too long to wait before cleaning your fridge.
Why you should clean your fridge
Our fridge is where we keep our food in a sanitary environment, at a controlled temperature to keep it as fresh as possible for as long as possible. Or, at least we can hope it is a sanitary environment. We’ve all been guilty of leaving our leftovers in the fridge a little too long, to the point they are almost unrecognizable, but that’s practically harmless, right? Unfortunately no. Not only is food waste a major contributor to landfills, but keeping spoiled food in your fridge could actually have adverse effects on your health. Many think that fridges are a difficult place for bacteria to grow because of the cold temperature, but they would be wrong. That’s where Listeria comes in.
“Listeria monocytogenes [are] the most common foodborne pathogen of Listeria”, and unlike most bacteria strains, it actually can grow in cold environments like a refrigerator, and can eventually lead to foodborne illness. Not only do we risk foodborne illness by leaving our fridges out in the cold during our cleaning routine, but we are also wasting money in a number of ways. We are wasting more food by not easily being able to see what we have in a dirty fridge, and our fridges have to work overtime to cool themselves if they are not organized or cleaned properly. By neglecting to vacuum or clean the backsides of our refrigerators, they can collect dust which means they have to exert more energy to cool down. It’s a good idea to keep your fridge clean to save yourself from illness and save yourself some money too.
How often you should clean your fridge
Did you know that “leaving spills or food that has spoiled in your fridge can cause the items in there to spoil…as mold spores travel from one food item to another and can live on surfaces of the refrigerator”? Therefore you should clean up spills in the fridge as soon as you see them, and regularly do an inventory of your fridge and decide what should be thrown away. Hopefully, by keeping a cleaner fridge you won’t be throwing out nearly as much forgotten food. Don’t worry, a deep clean of your fridge won’t be required every day, especially if you stay on top of cleaning up the small messes as they appear.
A deep clean of your refrigerator should be conducted at least twice a year. That means turning off the fridge, completely emptying it, cleaning and sanitizing the entire interior including shelves and drawers, cleaning the outside and top, and vacuuming under and behind. A moderate clean, or wipe down should be done about every 3 months. This would include wiping down the exterior, emptying the fridge, cleaning and sanitizing all shelves and drawers, and tossing any bad food. Every week, you should do a quick wipe down of any spills, and do an inventory of what foods you have. I like to do this every time before I go grocery shopping. That way I know what to get, and what I already have. When I get home with my groceries I wipe down the shelves of my refrigerator and load the fridge so that every food item is immediately visible.
Wasting food, wasting money
As we’ve learned, keeping old food can cause other foods to go off quicker too. On top of that, a dirty fridge makes it more difficult to see exactly what is in your fridge before it goes bad. This means throwing out wasted food more often, and spending more money making up for these losses. Our food waste problem has become such an issue it accounts for “6% of global greenhouse gas emissions”. This not only hurts our environment, but it also hurts our pockets too. Studies show that the average American throws “away 103 pounds of spoiled food from their fridge every year…based on this research, the average American also ends up chucking out $53.81 worth of spoiled food a week from their fridge, or $2,798 every year”. You could be saving thousands of dollars on groceries every year by simply keeping your fridge clean, and organizing it in a way that works for you so you can see exactly what you have at all times.
How to clean your fridge like a pro
Let’s break down how to clean and sanitize your fridge to prevent foodborne illness and food waste, and make your groceries look more enticing than that takeaway menu on the counter.
Wipe down any spills as they appear. If this means daily, then do it daily with a disinfecting cleaning spray or warm soapy water.
Every few days
Wipe down the door and particularly the handles of your fridge to disinfect and get rid of any bacteria from this high-touch area.
Every week, or every grocery run, do an inventory of what is in your fridge. Throw anything out that is past its best beyond. Make sure to dispose of your food waste responsibly. Depending on your region, this might include rinsing recyclables, and hopefully composting food waste.
While you’re at it, give all of your shelves and drawers a good wipe using a disinfecting spray or rag with warm soapy water. Dry the fridge completely with a clean cloth before loading your groceries back in. A clean fridge will make your groceries look even better.
Every 2-3 months
Remove all food, shelves, and drawers from the fridge. Wash them with warm soapy water, and dry completely. Wipe down the entire interior of the fridge as well with hot soapy water, and dry with a fresh clean cloth. After drying, use a disinfecting spray to disinfect the entire inside of the fridge, and all shelves and drawers. Once everything is completely dry you can load everything back into the fridge. Wipe down the doors, handles, and rubber seals of the fridge with a disinfecting spray. Want a fresh fridge? Add an opened box of baking soda inside of your fridge to absorb any funky smells. This can be replaced every 3 months.
Every 6 months
Turn off your fridge, and get ready to dive into a deep clean. Follow all the usual steps above in the “Every 2-3 months” regimen. Additional to that, wipe down the entire exterior of the fridge with hot soapy water, or a disinfecting spray, including the top of the fridge. Dry the exterior of the fridge completely. Pull out the fridge from the wall, and vacuum, behind and underneath the fridge. Vacuum any dust from the coils on the back of the fridge as well. The build-up of dust on the vents and coils of the fridge makes it much harder for the fridge to cool itself down. This can mean damage to your appliance, or more expensive energy bills if this chore is neglected.
Organizational tools to help keep your fridge clean
If you need a little help keeping your fridge organized, you’re in luck. There are a number of organizational tools to help you. Having a clean fridge will keep your food fresher, and make you more motivated to keep it clean and stocked with healthy foods. You can organize your fridge however you like, as long as everything is easily visible. While the crisper drawer is the perfect place to keep produce for some, others might neglect the produce in the crisper drawers and grab other foods more easily visible on the main shelves. Some combat this issue by using the drawers for non-perishables like condiments, and the main shelves for fresh groceries like dairy products and produce. Keeping foods that go bad quicker in view will prevent you from letting them wilt away forgotten in the crisper drawer.
You can also organize your fridge and prevent sticky spills by using containers to hold different food items. Prepping and organizing your food in this way makes it more easily accessible, and keeps mess from spreading to the rest of the fridge. You can also see more easily what you need to pick up on your next grocery trip.
Keeping a clean fridge has a number of benefits. By regularly cleaning your fridge you ward off foodborne bacteria and save money on groceries by wasting less food. Doing a deep clean of your fridge by cleaning the vents and coils also helps your refrigerator run better, and it will require less energy to keep cool. You could be saving money on pricey repairs or a full replacement by just adding a fridge deep clean to your list of chores every six months. By following these tips and cleaning your fridge often, we promise you’ll eat better, and be less tempted by takeout.
- BestLife. “Leaving This in Your Fridge Can Make Your Food Go Bad, Expert Warns“
- BuzzFeed. “The Most Effective Methods For Keeping Your Refrigerator Clean“
- Our World in Data. “Food waste is responsible for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions“
- Waste 360. “Study Shows How Much Food Americans Waste Every Year“