Monday, July 18, 2011

If you do ONE thing this week...


Unfortunately the refrigerator takes a lot of abuse. We stuff it full. We forget about leftovers. We leave spills until they've crystalized. Then we complain when there's even the slightest unpleasant odor that could make one heck of a "science experiment."

Cleaning out your freezer and fridge means more than just a tidier-looking kitchen. Food kept too long or at improper temperatures can become contaminated with bacteria, which can cause illness. Most people, it turns out, don't understand the dangers of improper food storage. The American Dietetic Association found that only 40% of consumers knew that eating food that has been stored in refrigerators warmer than 40 degrees Fahrenheit can increase the risk of food-borne illness.

Indeed, food poisoning and other food-borne illnesses are very common. Last year, there were an estimated 76 million cases of food-borne illness in the United States, according to the CDC. And about 5,000 people died.

So before you become one of the million cases, I'm challenging you to carve out 15 minutes in your WEEK (that's only 15 out of 10,080 minutes!) and clean your refrigerator.

Let's get motivated and tackle the mess together:

1) Remove all the food to start.

2) Remove shelves and drawers and wipe down with warm soapy water or vinegar.

3) Wipe down the interior walls.

4) While letting the shelves dry, wipe off any jars or containers of food that may need it, like a sticky jelly jar or a crusty salad dressing lid.

5) Now replace food. As you work, check expiration dates and discard food past those dates. Food manufacturers are looking out for your safety when they stamp that food with a sell by or use by date. They aren’t there for show. It amazes me when people say “it smells okay, so its fine.” Yes, but do you really think bacteria grow instantly? It might not smell yet because the population of bacteria that’s setting up camp may not be large enough to exude a smell. By the time something actually does smell, it means the amount of bacteria has become large enough for you to sense. Let’s take a look at storage limits for food groups so you can start chucking things in the trash;

Meats - Raw meat is safe in the fridge for about 1-2 days, and then you need to cook it or stick it in the freezer. Chicken breasts and whole cuts of meat can stay in the freezer for up to 1 year. Ground beef, chicken and turkey can stay frozen for up to 2 months. Deli meats in the fridge that are opened are only good for about 5 days, but unopened can last up to 2 weeks in the fridge.

Eggs – Eggs will last 3-5 weeks in the fridge, although their yolks will be noticeably different (more runny) after about 2 weeks.

Condiments – Condiments can last about a year in the fridge, these always have an expiration date so be sure to double check your sauces, dressings and that ketchup bottle that’s been sitting there for a while.

Cheeses – Soft cheeses like brie tend to spoil faster than the hard cheeses like cheddar and swiss. Soft cheeses will last 1-2 weeks where cheddar can probably make it about 4 weeks. It’s important to note that you cannot just cut the mold off of cheese and eat the rest! Mold has fingers, which means that mold seen on the outside means that it’s also inside the cheese. So if you see mold throw it out!

Produce – You should shop for produce every week. Make sure you don’t over-buy your fruits and veggies (even if they’re on sale!) because this will lead to spoilage and food waste. Buy just enough for the week. Remember, the grocery store isn’t going anywhere; you can always stop in to pick up some more romaine lettuce for dinner.

6) And lastly - place an open box of baking soda in the back of the fridge and freezer to eliminate odors. Label the baking soda box with a Sharpie 3 weeks out from the current date. That way you know when to replace it. And CLEAN YOUR REFRIGERATOR AGAIN!!

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