How to clean a refrigerator?

Refrigerators must be kept clean to be safe havens for our food.

Can you imagine living without a refrigerator? Most of us can't; we depend on them for safe, sanitary storage of half of our food. When they were introduced in the early 1920's, electric refrigerators revolutionized the shopping and cooking habits in kitchens all over the world. No longer were housewives forced to shop daily for fresh food, and to cook only what could be eaten immediately.

But refrigerators must be kept clean to be safe; even at temperatures at the recommended levels of 40 degrees, bacteria can grow and contaminate what food we do keep in them. Most refrigerator/freezer units made since 1985 have fewer nooks and crannies to capture drips and spills, but they all still have racks and gaskets and holes in the walls to support the shelves and drawers. If these are not cleaned regularly, they harbor nasty microbes that create un-safe havens for our food supplies.

If you have purchased a used refrigerator, or are bringing one out of storage, make sure that it's sanitized before you bring it into your kitchen if at all possible. You need ample air circulation to clean it well. Remove all the shelves and drawers from inside. Wearing rubber gloves, use a mixture of half chlorine bleach and half water to scrub down the interior; use a firm brush to reach the crevices around gaskets and irregular surfaces. This mixture will kill any mold or mold spores that may not be visible. Include the shelves, racks and drawers. You can spray these with your bleach/water solution -- or even a foaming, disinfectant spray cleaner made for bathrooms -- and let them sit while you attack the empty refrigerator. Put them in your bathtub to spray them down if you're working indoors; on a sheet or plastic tarp if you are outside.

Once you've finished scrubbing, rinse with clear water and dry thoroughly with a lint-free cloth.If an odourr persists, put an open box of baking soda or eight ounces of activated charcoal (available from an aquarium supply store) in a shallow pan and leave for one week to freshen.

Once your clean refrigerator is in use, you can keep odours from developing by covering all food securely before putting it in there, especially odiferous things like fish, broccoli, strong garlic flavors. Covering all food will keep it from absorbing the flavor or odor of the strong scented ones. Some substances will absorb odors and keep them from contaminating food. Baking soda is the traditional standard; keep an open box near the front on a middle shelf and discard it every month by putting it down your kitchen drain under a heavy water flow. It will freshen your disposal and the pipes. Do not use it for cooking after you have used it as a fridge freshener! Besides baking soda, you could use three or four charcoal briquettes kept in an open dish, dry coffee grounds on a paper plate, or half an empty orange skin filled with table salt.

Once a week, use a mixture of 1/4 cup baking soda in a quart of warm water to clean all interior surfaces, and a scrubby sponge to clean up sticky spills that you missed during the week. You will have to move stored food around to do this, so this is a good time to wipe down catsup and salad dressing bottles before they're put back. Bookmark on