By Julie Upton, RD
I took an hour over the weekend to go through my refrigerator and throw away all the UFOs (unidentified frozen objects) inhabiting my freezer and all the where-did-this-come-from-and-what-is-it items that may or not be edible.
Here are the basics of my kitchen makeover that can help renovate your diet—without costing you several months’ of your hard-earned salary. This week I’ll discuss the refrigerator/freezer; next up will be the pantry.
While these tips are important, my golden rule of kitchen cleaning is, “When in doubt, throw it out!” It’s the best rule to avoid foodborne illnesses. Another cool way to determine how long you can save just about any food product is to visit the handy site stilltasty.com.
• Schedule your kitchen makeover the day of the week before you typically go shopping, so you have the least amount of food at home. Take everything out of your refrigerator and throw away any moldy or suspect foods. Check all expiration dates, too, and pitch anything that has overstayed its welcome.
• Wipe the shelves and drawers with warm water and mild soap. Rinse with warm water and dry with a dishcloth.
• Combine any half-used but still-good condiments, dressings, and spreads into one container each; organize items by likeness; and find one spot for them where you’ll always be able to find them.
• Condiments and the most stable foods should be kept in the shelves on the door, since it’s typically the warmest area of the refrigerator; the coolest areas (drawers) should hold meats, cheeses, vegetables, and anything else that will go bad quickly.
• Place an open box of baking soda in the middle of the refrigerator to absorb odors.
• Use a thermometer and check your refrigerator to ensure that the temperature is somewhere between 36 and 39 degrees Farenheit. Most experts say 38 degrees is optimal. Your freezer should be set to 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
• The vegetable drawer, or “crisper,” keeps in humidity to help reduce wilting, so keep greens and fresh veggies in this drawer. They should last about seven days.
• In the deli/meat drawer, store your fresh meats and cheeses. Unopened products will keep until the use-by date but once opened, meats will only last up to five days. Hard cheese will last up to three weeks.
• Organize your refrigerator so that the healthiest foods are appealing and within reach. Place less-healthy choices in the back of the refrigerator to avoid standing and eating those treats while you search for dinner ingredients.
• Remove all items from your freezer and take inventory. If you see visible freezer burn or can’t recognize the food, throw it out.
• Anything you choose to salvage, wrap in two layers of plastic or store in special freezer bags to avoid air exposure, which causes freezer burn.
• Cooked meats and/or leftovers will last up to two months, while uncooked meats, poultry or seafood may be good for six months. (Check out Real Simple‘s guide for more specifics.) Vegetables and most other unopened foods will last for a year.