Cleaning and Organizing Your Refrigerator

Posted: August 9, 2013

When it is hot outside working in a “cool” environment, like your refrigerator, may be an appealing task. An organized and clean refrigerator may save you money! Clean refrigerators work more efficiently and organized refrigerators may mean less “loss” from throwing out expired or old food. Plus a clean refrigerator may prevent the risk of foodborne illness.

 Here are the steps:

·        Get a cooler ready to store perishable foods while you work.

·        Remove everything. For some people, this step can be overwhelming, so you might want to start with just one shelf.  Pitch out-dated items. Go to and enter “food product dating” if you have specific questions.

·        Remove shelves and drawers, wash with hot soapy water, borax, or baking soda. Rinse with clean water and dry with a towel.  Do not use cleaning products that may leave an odor that would draw into the foods, affecting their flavor.  It’s really important to rinse with clean water.

·        Wipe the inside interior and the bottom of the refrigerator.

·        Wipe the exterior of refrigerator and remove dust and lint from front grill.  Pull out the refrigerator and vacuum behind it, again removing dirt and lint that may pile up on the refrigerator, wall, and floor.

·        Keep the door gaskets clean so you get a good seal.  Wash thoroughly with mild detergent and warm water, then rinse and dry.  Do not use cleaning waxes, bleaches, strong detergents or petroleum-base cleaners on gaskets.  They may cause the gasket to yellow and crumble.

·        Remember that the popular stainless steel finishes can be marred with cleaners that contain citrus juices.  Mild soap and water is best for cleaning, rinse with clean water and dry with a towel.

·        As you put back the food, wipe off the jars and containers.

·        A refrigerator thermometer should be placed in the back and should read 41 degrees or colder.

Organizing Tips:

·        If the refrigerator has special drawers for meats, use it to keep raw meat, seafood, and poultry away from other ready to eat and perishables to prevent cross contamination. It there is not a special drawer, keep these foods in a pan on a low shelf to prevent juices from dripping on other food.

·        Milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese can all be stored together on a shelf.  Keeping these in the door is not recommended because they are exposed to the warm air when the door is opened, causing them to spoil faster.

·        Eggs should be stored in their carton on a shelf – NOT in the door (same reason as above).  Plus storing in the carton helps to keep food odors from being absorbed by the eggs.

·        Sauces and condiments can be kept together in the door of the refrigerator.  If they are in the door, they are easy to see which reduces the changes of “overstocking” or buying multiple items.

·        Have a designated shelf for leftovers and make a plan to use them.  Freeze them if you are not going to use in four days.  Remove leftovers from  pots or pans and place in clear containers (so you can see what’s in them) that can be washed.  If you keep leftovers in a special section of the refrigerator, you know this section needs to be cleaned weekly.

·        Store bottled or canned beverages in a pantry or cupboard so as to free up space for foods that must stay cool. Refrigerated juices and opened bottles of juice should be refrigerated.  You can transfer into clean, smaller containers to increase overall storage space.


Sources:  “Refrigerator Makeover” North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension and “How to Clean and Organize Your Refrigerator” by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.


Beth Van Horn can be reached by calling the Penn State Cooperative Extension – Mifflin County office at (717) 248-9618 or by e-mail at  Visit Penn State Cooperative Extension – Mifflin County’s Web page at