A refrigerator can become a bottomless pit of expired food and leftovers. If you are not careful, food can go bad just based on how you are storing it and the temperature of your fridge. This creates unnecessary waste, which is bad for your wallet as well as the environment. Here are some helpful hints for keeping food fresh and lasting longer, reducing your waste and saving you grocery money at the same time.
Be Cool. Your fridge should be set to between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit. If you go higher than this, you risk your food spoiling too quickly. Go too low, and your food freezes (not to mention you end up wasting energy). Use a fridge thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature to be safe.
Use the Drawers. If you have crisper drawers, use them for produce and set the humidity controls to keep produce fresh. Use your deli drawer to keep meat separate from fruits and veggies to avoid cross-contamination.
Go High. Keep your dairy, eggs and milk on the top and middle shelves where the refrigerator temperature is coldest.
Say No to Clutter. When your fridge is cluttered, the air cannot circulate around the food to keep it cool, allowing spoilage to happen more easily. Keep food in size-appropriate containers. Potatoes, onions, citrus fruit and tomatoes do not need to be refrigerated until they’ve been cut into. Remove these and make room for other items.
Wipe On, Wipe Off. Before each grocery-shopping trip, wipe your fridge’s shelves, drawers and door compartments with hot water and mild soap. Look for expired condiments, empty the containers and recycle them. Compost or trash any spoiled fruits or leftovers that have been in your fridge for more than four days.
Contain the Drips. Keep all meat in a separate storage container or bag them to prevent leakage from occurring and cross-contaminating other foods. If there is a spill, wipe it up immediately! Remember to freeze meat that you won’t use within a few days.
Deodorize. Even fresh foods have their scents. Keep your refrigerator smelling fresh and clean by making your own DIY deodorizer or leaving a box of baking soda open in your fridge to absorb odors.
Label Drawers and Containers. Storing your food efficiently and knowing exactly how much you have of everything is much easier to see when everything is organized. Label and date food containers to reduce your chances of losing track (and lowering your risk of waste). Consider using these free printable fridge labels.
Don’t Take Chances. My husband is notorious for saying he can eat a leftover hamburger 10 days after I’ve cooked it. But no, it is not worth taking the chance and ending up with food poising. If you’re not sure how long to store foods, check out the FDA’s handy refrigerator and freezer storage chart. It gives you a breakdown of how long different food items should be stored.
Get Down and Dirty. Once a month, take everything out of your fridge and give it a good old fashioned elbow scrub. I like to use an earth-friendly cleaner: combine vinegar, water and lemon in a spray bottle and spray generously on shelves and bins. I let my drawers soak in hot soapy water, and then I go to town scrubbing. This is also a great time to get rid of the moldy cheese and expired salad dressing you’ve neglected to toss.
Keeping your fridge clean not only looks nice, but helps you see what you have so you can plan your meals better and spend less money at the grocery store.
Sommer Poquette is The Green and Clean Mom, Sommer Poquette, writes for The Home Depot on lifestyle topics and green choices. You can find options for refrigerators that make organization simple on Home Depot's website. Read all of Sommer's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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