You might think there aren't that many mistakes you can make with a fridge freezer, aside from leaving the doors open – an example of that is in the image above, but that is for photographic promotional purposes, not because you took a yogurt out and then wondered off to watch the Food Network without closing the bloody doors. That aside, the fact is that you can't just bung stuff in your fridge willy-nilly and expect to get away with it, and you need to take a little care with your large appliance. Fridge and fridge freezer ownership is a great privilege that comes with great responsibility. There are rules and standards to be observed.
It doesn't matter how good your fridge or freezer is if you don't use it and maintain it properly. With minimal effort, it's easy to maintain a healthy, well organised and clean refrigeration unit. However, if you don't know what you're doing, you'll end up like the woman in the photo above: distressed, dishevelled and probably at risk of E.Coli and god knows what.
Before we start, one great way to minimise the need for fridge cleaning is to buy a brand new one. This will also almost certainly cut your electricity bills, as a new fridge or freezer will pretty much invariably be more energy efficient than the one you bought 5-10 years ago. To help you with this we have many, many buying guides. Try our list of the best fridge freezers, or perhaps the best fridges… or how about the best freezers? We even have a large, double-doored guide to the best American style fridge freezers, if you or your family are extra large.
1. Not following a fridge storage plan
Okay it's not the greatest photo in the world but you get the general idea. Dairy goes at the top. Miscellaneous items go on level 4 – largely pickles in my case – and to an extent level 3. Level 2 is for leftovers and pre-packaged foods. Level 1 is for raw meat and fish, and more leftovers, stored in air-tight containers.
And then down in the Fresh basement, lives the fruit and veg, in its special box. Although interestingly, this is also where you should keep hard cheeses that you intend to keep for a long time, most notably Parmesan, in a zip-lock bag.
Food storage boxes, especially vacuum sealed ones, are great for food hygiene and ease of storage. Because they're compact and designed to stack on top of one another, filling the fridge ceases to be an arduous chore and becomes like a fun game of food Tetris. To help with this, it's a good idea to not uniformly space your shelves – as you can see, level 2 of my fridge space is taller and can accommodate chickens, upright bottles of ketchup and so on.
A bottle rack can also be a very useful thing to have, although I don't have one, sadly, so have to store all my vintage Champagne next to the duck fat and, erm, pickled eggs.
2. Not cleaning your fridge
Just look at this woman. She has made terrible life choices. Mainly, she has agreed to do some modelling work for a photographic agency, for a photo captioned 'dirty fridge'. People make mistakes with their fridge – or fridge freezer – every day, but at least they don't usually involve candid camera snaps taken of them from inside the fridge. Anyway, I digress.
The first thing to say about cleaning your fridge is that if you regularly find it is covered in mould and rotting meat, and you are getting food poisoning on a regular basis, you should probably consider some of your lifestyle choices. And also probably buy a new fridge. However, sad to say, the second thing to say about fridge freezer cleaning is that it is necessary, both for hygiene reasons and to extend the life of your appliance.
Ideally you should clean your fridge at least once every month. Do I clean my fridge at least once every month? Of course I don't. I'm just passing on the advice of experts, which I ignore. But you should do as I say, not as I do.
The good news is that if you are using storage boxes and not smearing your fridge interior with raw liver, cleaning it should not be too arduous. Just take everything out and get to work with either warm, soapy water or a vinegar and water spray. Most glass cleaning sprays are vinegar and water – check the back of the bottle for the 'ingredients', or you can make one yourself by putting some water and white vinegar in an old cleaning spray that you've emptied and rinsed. Wow, I feel like Mrs Hinch now.
The important point here is not to use harsh chemicals. These will eventually start to damage the lining of your fridge, and also, harsh chemicals just don't taste very nice when their residue is left on food.
If you have one of those fridge freezers with an ice dispenser in the door, please in the name of god, make sure you clean this regularly, following the manufacturer's instructions. These things can become foul pits of disease if not maintained correctly. In fact, my strong advice would be to not buy a fridge freezer with an ice/cold water dispenser in it, in the first place.
Strictly speaking, you should pull your fridge freezer out periodically and clean the back with a vacuum cleaner and a few light wafts of vinegar spray. Unplug it first and don't get it wet, for obvious reasons. I mean, again, I never do this – my fridge freezer is built in, for a start – but technically speaking, you should. You may decide life is too short, however, and I couldn't blame you.
3. Not defrosting your fridge and freezer
Surely you already defrost your freezer regularly but I thought I'd better remind y'all. Did you know you can now get fridge freezers that never need defrosting? That is another pretty good reason to upgrade, right? The important thing to remember here is to try, as far as you are humanly able, to unplug the appliance and let the freezer defrost naturally. I know it is very tempting to get out a kettle of boiling water and a blowtorch, but please resist it.
Another urge you should resist is the urge to use a large, sharp knife to scrape the ice off the freezer walls. I actually once did this, punctured the walls, and destroyed the freezer. I'm also not sure that the gas in freezers is something I should have been having puffed in my face, so please don't make the same mistake as me.
If your fridge is icing up, it also needs defrosting, but this also suggests you have a problem with your fridge. The internal temperature of a fridge should consistently be a minimum of 4ºC. It's worth investing in a fridge thermometer and adjusting the settings until you get it to that temperature. The good news is that if your fridge is icing up, it's almost certainly using more energy than it should be, and so you'll end up saving money on your electric bills as well. Or just buy a new fridge freezer, if your one is a decade old and showing its age. The way bills are going up, a newer, more economical appliance will pay for itself within a few years.
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