The fridge is the true workhorse of the kitchen — and many of us neglect it. Improper use and lack of care can lead to messes, wasted energy and even foodborne illnesses. While each fridge is a little different, here are some universal do's and don'ts to keep your fridge (and the food inside it!) in tip-top shape.
Do Take Your Fridge's Temperature
Keep the fridge set at a chilly 40 degrees F or below to slow harmful bacteria growth and keep your dinner leftovers safe to eat. Set the freezer at a steady 0 degrees F — cold enough to keep your ice cream frozen, but not so cold that it drains energy.
If your fridge doors don’t seal properly, cold air can escape, which makes it harder for your fridge to keep its cool. A faulty seal on the freezer can lead to unwanted frosty buildup — think freezer burn on your ice cream and frozen burritos. Clean the seals with warm soapy water to stop any debris or food spills from from blocking the seal. If the seal is cracked or broken, it's time to buy a new seal.
Don't Store Highly Perishable Items in the Door
The door, which gets a good workout opening and closing, is the warmest place in the fridge — so you don't want to put items like milk and eggs there. Keep them on a shelf instead.
One bad apple really can spoil the whole bunch. Some fruits, like apples, bananas, avocados and melons, emit ethylene, a ripening gas that causes premature spoilage in neighboring produce. Keep offending fruit away from sensitive greens (which will wilt with exposure) in a separate bin set to low humidity. The open vent will let some of the gas escape and help items last longer.
Do Toss Leftovers in a Timely Fashion
Is last week's take-out OK to eat? How about yesterday's pasta? A general rule of thumb from the USDA: After the fourth day, throw it away.
Remember, this is where you keep your food! Choose non-toxic green cleaners or mix a little water with some baking soda or white vinegar and scrub away. Once a season, roll up your sleeves, remove all of the food from your fridge and do a deep clean.
Don't Waste Space By Storing the Wrong Stuff
Hot sauce, nut butters, coffee beans and other items that are commonly kept in the fridge don't require refrigeration and do just fine — better even — in the pantry.
Out of sight, out of mind? Think again. Dusty coils can keep your fridge from running efficiently and cooling food properly. If the coils are on the back, pull the fridge from the wall; if the coils are on the bottom, simply snap off the kick plate. Just be sure to unplug the fridge first (so you don’t get shocked!). Use a coil brush (available at the hardware store) to knock off dust, then vacuum it up.