By: Dr. Donna Powell & Dr. Renee M. Marchioni Beery at Gastro MD
When planning your spring-cleaning strategy, most people prioritize the areas in their home that may have been the most neglected over the year, such as the dusty attic, cluttered garage, or unorganized closets. You may not immediately think of the refrigerator and pantry because you’re likely poking in there every day, but the fridge is a notoriously used area of the home that deserves some ‘TLC’ this spring.
Your refrigerator and pantry aren’t just the places where you store food; they’re also where you protect your food. Therefore, the fridge and the pantry play important roles in food safety. If they’re not cleaned properly, they may become home to harmful bacteria, which can result in foodborne illnesses.
Refrigerators and pantries can be incubators for germs. Bacteria growth can contaminate food and, when consumed, can result in diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps, and other gastrointestinal problems. Therefore, cleaning your fridge and pantry shouldn’t only be an annual event. If you’ve been too busy to clean these areas regularly over the year, here’s what you should do:
1. Take everything out
It’s not spring cleaning if you’re not committing to a thorough washing. And the best way to ensure you don’t miss anything is by taking everything out of your fridge and pantry and only putting back what you’ve identified as safe. Emptying the fridge and pantry entirely allows you to wash the inside thoroughly. Clean up any spills and stains with a natural, non-toxic solution such as baking soda and water. Before putting anything back in the pantry, ensure that it’s dry.
2. Check expiration dates and appearances
Throw out all expired foods. If you accidentally eat expired foods, you run the risk of triggering stomach problems to contracting food poisoning. Also, spoiled food can grow bacteria, which can spread to the other food in your fridge or pantry. You should also throw away anything that’s rusted or leaking, such as badly dented cans. Check your spices; while spices won’t likely go “bad,” remember that spices can lose their potency and flavor over time.
3. Check the temperature
According to the Food and Drug Administration, bacteria can grow in your refrigerator if the temperature is not set to 40 F or below. Some fridges don’t have visible thermometers or gauges. If yours doesn’t, it’s worth buying a thermometer to ensure temperatures never go above what’s considered optimal.
4. Reconsider what you should put back in
Now that you’ve taken out all the food from your fridge and pantry, you may come to realize that you have stocked up on too many foods that are high sugar, high-calorie, high-sodium, or highly processed. Putting these unhealthy foods back in your fridge and pantry may not be the most health-conscious decision.
Spring cleaning is a time to do a thorough cleaning of your home. But it also presents the opportunity to recognize unhealthy habits that may also need to be thrown away. Yes, contaminated food can lead to food poisoning, however, eating unhealthy food can also harm your health, increasing your risk for gastrointestinal issues.