Eat Beat

Spring Fridge Freshening

by Althea Zanecosky

Spring is my favorite season. It’s the whole idea of rebirth. The world is coming alive again. That’s probably where spring cleaning comes from — starting a new season with a bright, shiny house.

A cleaning of your kitchen, especially your refrigerator, could be the most important chore you undertake in the spring. You can’t see or smell bacteria, but they are lurking in your kitchen even though it looks clean. And that includes the family fridge.

Fridges Can Have a ‘Fever’
Have you taken your refrigerator’s temperature recently? We take our refrigerators for granted, but this piece of equipment is critical for keeping foods safe. If it has a fever, it could make your family sick. Keeping foods cold slows bacterial growth.

Your refrigerator should be kept at 40 degrees or below. The best way to know if it is cold enough is to use a refrigerator thermometer; you can find one in the housewares section of many stores. Place it in the center of the middle shelf. If it reads higher than 40 degrees, use the refrigerator’s controls to adjust the temperature. Don’t put the thermometer on the door; the temperature fluctuates every time you open and close it.

Spring is the time to toss those foods that have been hibernating in your refrigerator all winter. Look for leftovers hiding in margarine tubs, almost-empty bottles of condiments and bits of cheese covered in mold. For a helpful calculator that will let you know how long you can safely keep leftovers in the fridge, visit www.homefoodsafety.org, print out the one-page sheet and place it on your refrigerator door.

Check the dates on food packages. Remember that “use by” and “expiration” dates are not the same. The “use by” date refers to optimal food quality, but it’s still safe to eat afterwards. The expiration date means “don’t eat it” after the date stamped on the food. And forget about the sniff test to determine if something is safe to eat. Harmful bacteria often don’t give food an odor.

Choose a chilly day to clean your refrigerator. Put food in a cooler and then place it in your garage, back porch or a safe, shady area outside. Wipe down the shelves, drawers and surfaces with warm, soapy water. Don’t use harsh chemical cleaners or bleach because they can damage refrigerator seals and leave behind odors.

An opened box of baking soda in the back of the refrigerator can help to help eliminate odors. Replace it every three months. Then get down on your hands and knees and clean the front grill and vacuum the condenser coils. This helps to keep the fridge working at peak efficiency.

Other Kitchen Areas
There are other ways you can make your kitchen safer. Go through your cupboards and get rid of containers that are designed for one-time use. Sour cream cartons, frozen whipped topping tubs and other empty food packages should not be reused to store food. Even if they’ve been through the dishwasher, bacteria may be hiding in the nooks of these containers.

To sanitize your countertops, use one teaspoon of bleach in one quart of water. When finished, pour the water down your drain to kill off any food particles that get trapped in the drain and garbage disposal.

This spring, ditch the sponges and buy some dishcloths. Sponges and pot scrubbers are perfect receptacles for bacterial growth, so use dishcloths and wash them frequently in hot water in your washing machine.

Althea Zanecosky is a Philadelphia registered dietitian and national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.