Spring clean the refrigerator

By Charlyn Fargo

Spring brings thoughts of flowers and planting, bike rides and picnics. It should bring a few spring cleaning thoughts as well. Time to get purge the pantry and the closet.

And don’t forget about the refrigerator. Make sure you have everything in the right place to ensure food safety. The refrigerator is one of the most important appliances in your kitchen when it comes to food safety. Bacteria can grow everywhere. If kept at the appropriate temperature, your refrigerator and freezer slows the growth of bacteria.

Here are some tips to make sure you are refrigerating foods properly:

• Make sure the refrigerator temperature is 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below in the freezer. Hang an appliance thermometer near the door to make sure your refrigerator and freezer are working correctly.

• Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods and leftovers within two hours of cooking.

• Never defrost or marinate food at room temperature. Use the refrigerator. If you’re thawing poultry or meat, place it on the lowest shelf so that it won’t drip or contaminate other food. You can also thaw foods that are in air-tight packaging in cold (70 degree or below), running water. Or, thaw in the microwave if you’ll be cooking the food immediately afterwards in the oven, on the grill or in a pan on the stove.

• For proper storage in the refrigerator, divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers. This allows for quick cooling in the refrigerator. Foods should cool from 135 degrees to 70 within two hours and from 70 degrees to 41 within four hours.

• Don’t over-stuff the refrigerator. Cold air must circulate to keep food safe. In addition, don’t cover refrigerator shelves with foil. That prevents good circulation.

• Don’t keep milk or eggs in the refrigerator doors, because the temperature varies too much in this location and both items are kept better on the lower shelves of the main compartment. The doors are better suited for condiments, juices and water.

• Use the crisper compartments for fruits and veggies, but keep them separate as they have varying rates which the food ripens, and can cause other produce to spoil faster.

• What foods should not be refrigerated? Tomatoes, potatoes, onions and squash. Optional refrigerator items include: oils, nut flours and whole grain flour, nut butter, nuts. Flour can be frozen to kill any insect eggs.

Here is a handy food storage time chart from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

• Soups and Stews, vegetable or meat: refrigerator: 3-4 days

• Ham fully cooked whole: refrigerator: 7 days

• Ham fully cooked sliced: refrigerator: 3-4 days

• Fresh uncooked meat, including hamburger: refrigerator: 3-5 days

• Leftover meat: refrigerator: 3-4 days

• Gravy and meat broth: refrigerator: 1-2 days

• Fresh raw poultry: refrigerator: 1-2 days

• Cooked poultry: refrigerator: 3-4 days

• Cooked poultry with broth/gravy: refrigerator: 1-2 days

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