How To Clean & Store Food Properly In Your Fridge To Avoid Illness

Image of detergent, sanitiser and clean cloths

Before I started my food business, I had no idea that there is a particular way to store food in the fridge, or how to clean the fridge to avoid food illness. If this is news to you too, then read on…

Pre-business, the inside of our fridge at home was not a place I would always have been proud to show people: it was sometimes messy, with the occasional spills here and there and perhaps the odd dried-out bit of cheese littering the back of a shelf. At one point when the internal light bulb blew, opening the fridge was like looking into a big black hole of cluttered jars and plastic tubs containing… well sometimes I wasn’t even sure.

I often ended up throwing leftover food away as I had no idea how long it had been there. And with everything in such a jumble, it was hard to know what I had. Inevitably, we ended up wasting a lot of food as we had to throw away things that had been forgotten in the ‘fridge-void’.

Once I started the food business I became more aware of the need for a clean and well-organised fridge in the home as well. I learned that if you wipe up spills straight away, keeping your fridge clean will be so much easier. Look at it this way: dried ketchup puddles are really time consuming to scrub off, but freshly spilled ones disappear in 2 seconds with a dampened piece of kitchen towel.

Dried ketchup puddles are really time consuming to scrub off, but freshly spilled ones disappear in 2 seconds with a dampened piece of kitchen towel.

When to clean

In a food business you would do a daily swipe over any stains or remnants of food, and do a deep clean once a week. However, in a domestic setting this is probably unnecessary, especially if you are clearing up any spills and food remnants as you go. Generally a seasonal deep clean – ie every 3 months – is sufficient. Think of your ‘spring clean’ for the fridge as also being a summer, autumn and winter clean.

In my case I find that keeping a cleaning schedule is essential, otherwise time passes and I forget to do various things.

It’s a good idea to do the fridge deep clean the day before you’re about to do a big weekly shop, when the fridge will have less in it.

How to clean the fridge

Remove all the food, checking best-by dates and throwing away out-of-date items. Bacteria multiply really quickly above 5 degrees C so you’ll want to store the food in cool bags with ice blocks while you’re cleaning the fridge.

Remove the shelves and crisper compartments and wash them in hot soapy water. Rinse and wipe dry with a clean tea towel – or even better if you have any – with disposable paper towels such as kitchen roll. Spray the shelves and compartments with sanitizer and wipe dry, again with a disposable paper towel.

There are plenty of sanitisers these days that are surface safe and leave no nasty chemical residues or smells. However, if you prefer not to use these, you can easily prepare a simple fridge cleaning spray with 3 tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda (or baking soda in the USA) with 1 litre of water.

For the inside of the fridge, remove any obvious remnants of food and dirt. Wipe down all the surfaces with hot soapy water. You may need to use a cotton bud to clean hard to get to areas, such as those really narrow shelf grooves. Wipe dry and spray with sanitiser, immediately wiping dry with disposable paper towels. Make sure the drip hole drain at the back isn’t blocked.

Don’t forget to thoroughly clean the rubber door seals. Handles and the exterior of the fridge should also be cleaned in the same way.

Replace the shelves and crisper box once the inside of the fridge is clean and dry. Remember the part about bacteria multiplying quickly in temperatures above 5 degree C? You’ll want to wait for the fridge temperature to drop to at least 5 degrees C before you put the food back in it. Some fridges have a fast chill function: if yours does, use this now to cool your fridge quickly. Fridge thermometers are not expensive and it’s well worthwhile getting one to make sure that your fridge setting is correct and doesn’t exceed 5 degree C.

How to store food in the fridge

Now before you pile the food back in, let’s talk about where we put it. I’m not just referring to a Marie Kondo style decluttered fridge, but in terms of food hygiene, it’s important that certain foods are stored in particular places in a fridge. This is to avoid cross-contamination, which can lead to food illnesses. There are harmful bacteria in raw meat and poultry that you wouldn’t want spreading to other foods.

So how do we do this? Raw meat, poultry, fish and eggs should all be stored below cooked and ready-to-eat food. Unwashed fruit and veg should also be stored below ready-to-eat food, and ideally, above any raw meat. Of course, in most fridges this is difficult since the crisper box is usually right at the bottom. If you have 2 crispers, use one for raw meat and the other for raw fruit and veg. Otherwise large plastic containers to separate raw meat from raw veggies will do the job. This is so that there is no risk of any bacteria spreading from the meat to any food below, for example, liquid from a raw chicken dripping down onto food on the shelf below. All cooked food should be covered or stored in lidded, plastic food containers.

How to store food in the fridge

From top to bottom:

Ready-to-eat and cooked food

Raw meat / poultry / fish / eggs: always covered or in sealed containers

Unwashed fruit / vegetables

Another thing I learned when I started my food business was just how useful it is to label cooked food that I store in the fridge, or jars of food that have been opened. Have you ever taken a bowl of leftovers out of your fridge and wondered if it’s still OK to eat? If you get into the habit of adding a little sticker with the date that you put it in there, you’ll know whether it’s 2 days or 2 weeks old. It will make it much easier to maintain a decluttered and hygienic fridge. The same goes for those jars of pesto, or tubs of cream: pop a label on the lid, with the date you opened it. In our house those pots of cream that reach their limit date-wise are very happily received by my 2 dogs!

Basically, a clean fridge with better food storage and management means less waste, less chance of food illnesses, and helps you avoid having a fridge that smells bad. Plus, now I can be proud to show it to visitors!

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