If your fridge looks more like a science experiment from your grade nine chemistry class then a safe and happy haven for your food, it's probably way overdue for a clean-up.
At the very least you need to give your fridge the once-over every four months, but a weekly wipe down and a food inspection will give you a gold star.
The last time I cleaned out my parent's fridge, they had stuff in there that should've been in the Smithsonian Institute. I felt like I needed to be wearing a hazmat suit. It was bye-bye to the opened jar of jam, relish, mayo, and ketchup with dates stamped on them that were too old to make out. And au revoir to the stuff in the back that was beyond recognition.
The old adage "When in doubt, throw it out" rings true in your fridge. My dad always does the sniff test, but the problem is you can't smell bacteria when it first starts growing. When something starts to smell it's usually so far gone that it becomes a no- brainer to pitch it out. Don't even think about tasting it to see if it's gone bad; the last thing you want is a case of food poisoning all for the sack of a $2.99 bottle of salsa.
Get down to business:
• Clear off your counter, get out a bucket of warm water, clean cloths, your city composter or garbage bags and tackle the great unknown. (Check your fridge manual -- some state that warm water and baking soda is the best option for washing, while others say warm, soapy water. Don't guess -- read the manual.)
• Work on one shelf at a time. Take everything out. Check the label. Can't remember the last time you even used your giant bottle of creamy salad dressing? It might be a great idea to just chuck it. Clean it out into your city composter or garbage, rinse out the glass or plastic jar for recycling and buy a smaller bottle next time.
• Once you've gone through all jars, containers, and plastic bags filled with mystery foods, toss what needs tossing and wipe off the shelves. Let dry.
• Work your way through the fridge until you get to the meat drawer. Clean it out and then wash it in the sink with warm, soapy water and a mild disinfectant. Rinse with warm water and 1 tbsp (15 mL) vinegar and let air dry. Drain the water to make sure there isn't any cross contamination for the rest of the cleaning.
• Next thing is the crispers a.k.a. the slimmer drawer. Remove all produce, chuck out the slimy stuff and then wash the crisper in the sink with clean warm, soapy water. Rinse with warm water and 1 tbsp (15 mL) vinegar and let air dry.
• Work through the shelves on the door.
• If there are any stains in the fridge, sprinkle with some baking soda and use a clean, wet cloth to gently scrub. Rinse well with clean water.
• To help with odours, put some fresh baking soda in an open container at the back of the fridge. Change every four to six months.
You become responsible for the safe handling of food on the way home in your car. Do your shopping and then head straight home putting all perishable foods into the fridge or freezer right away. Make sure that your fridge is set for the correct temperature. Health Canada recommends that your fridge be set at or below 4°C (40°F) and recommends that you use a refrigerator thermometer to check the temperature. Don't overload your fridge. The cold air needs to circulate around the food.
The Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education has a great chart for the life of food in your fridge, click here for the list.