How Often Should I Clean Out My Fridge?

clean-fridge

Welcome back to It’s Not a Stupid Question. Cleaning out the refrigerator is one of those tasks that’s easy to ignore, since it’s a mess that’s literally kept behind closed doors. But ask any one of the 48 million Americans—or one-sixth of the population—who get sick from foodborne diseases each year if they wished they’d cleaned their fridge more thoroughly, they’ll probably say yes (especially since 128,000 of these people require hospitalization, and around 3,000 of them don’t survive).

Your fridge is a battleground for a list of unpleasant bacteria as long as your arm. Psychrophilic bacteria—that is, bacteria that can grow at low temperatures—can lead to such horror shows as Listeria, Vibriosis, Salmonella or a Pseudomonas infection. Your fridge is also a reproduction party for molds, which can produce highly dangerous toxic compounds like aflatoxins. These things can normally be avoided by cleaning out the fridge now and then, but how often is often enough?

“Provided you maintain regular upkeep by cleaning up messes and spills as they happen, I recommend doing a full deep clean every month,” says Mary Bolger, Senior Product Development Manager at Whirlpool. She also suggests you take care to clean in the corners. “Hidden mold and mildew can cause refrigerators to smell bad, even when they appear clean,” she warns.

When it comes to the cleaning itself, we looked to Martha Stewart—who else?—whose website recommends using a mixture of two tablespoons of baking soda to one quart of water to scrub the shelves and wipe down the interior. This cleans while helping eradicate odors, and unlike regular detergent, doesn’t leave a scent behind that can be absorbed by your food.

Of course, sometimes your fridge will smell despite your best efforts. “Plastic parts can take on odors over time,” Bolger explains. “They will emit odors even after the refrigerator has been cleaned.” If your fridge still whiffs after bathtime, try putting a bowl of (fresh!) cat litter in the fridge—it’ll suck those smells right up.

Your freezer, meanwhile, is safer territory. According to Foodsafety.gov, food stored in the freezer “remains safe indefinitely,” but the quality of your meal will deteriorate over time. You can find a full chart at the above link, but for the quick breakdown, sausages shouldn’t be kept more than two months, burgers no longer than four months, while steaks and poultry can handle up to a year. Happy snacking!