Reminder: clean your fridge this weekend

Imagine the inside of your refrigerator. So many shelves, drawers, trays and cubbies, all with their own corners and crevices. Now imagine all of the food that could get stuck in the nooks and crannies: ketchup splatters, sandwich crumbs, raw meat juices… we could go on.

Sounds nasty, huh? But for many of us, the grossness lurking in our fridges is something we try not to think about. Most people in the U.S. clean their fridges just once or twice a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

How often should we be cleaning? Well, more than once yearly. You should wipe down surfaces with a disinfectant on roughly a weekly basis, to remove any spills or food debris. Less frequently but still regularly, you should empty the fridge and do a deep clean, making sure to get in and around drawers, under glass panes and in any crevices that you have to remove shelves to reach.

My fridge doesn’t smell that bad yet, though!

Foodborne illness-causing bacteria can be dangerous before the point where your fridge gets smelly. Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli and Staphylococcus are some of the biggest culprits for causing foodborne illness, and they can in fact be harbored in an unclean fridge, growing or even spreading from food item to food item. The cold temperatures greatly reduce bacterial growth — except in the case of Listeria, which can grow at 32-45°F.

A study of home kitchens conducted by NSF International found that the two most bacteria-ridden places in the kitchen were both located in the fridge: the meat drawer and the vegetable drawer. Investigators found Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, yeast and mold there.

How to keep the fridge from getting super dirty in the first place

You can take simple steps to avoid food safety risks in your own fridge.

Cross-contamination can be avoided by storing different foods in different drawers — especially raw meat. Never put meat on a high shelf while you defrost it, as juices may drip down to food below. Keep unpackaged food like leftovers, fruits and produce in bags or plastic containers.

To keep mold from taking over, toss out any expired products early and don’t hold on to leftovers for more than a few days.

To avoid spoilage, be careful where you put certain items. If stored in a door compartment, eggs will be swung into warm temperatures each time if you open the fridge, allowing Salmonella to grow more readily. Keeping fruits separate from other fruits helps because many produce ethylene, a gas that encourages ripening.

Clean spills as soon as you see them, no matter how small. If you keep up to date with cleaning big and small messes, you and your family will be that much more protected from the dread that is a foodborne illness.

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