How to Efficiently Use the Refrigerator and Freezer

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Who knows what radioactive waste lurks in the depths of many of the
country's refrigerators and freezers. The circa-1990 condiment collection
and the frozen mystery meat are just the beginning. Perform a
clean-out to maximize (and disinfect) your cold-storage space.

  • Remove all the food from the fridge and freezer. While you're cleaning, store perishables and frozen foods in an ice chest.

  • Throw out anything you can't remember buying or that has expired. See 304 Determine the Shelf Life of Foods.

  • Wash the shelves, door and trays of the refrigerator and freezer with warm, soapy water.

  • Defrost and remove the frost that accumulates on the roof and sides of the freezer. If it's more than 1⁄4-inch (6 mm) thick, think about switching to a no-frost freezer. Frost buildup increases the amount of energy needed to keep the motor running.

  • Throw out the ice: The chunks at the bottom of the tray may have been resting there for years. Clean out the tray with warm soapy water, fill and return it to the freezer.

  • Create sections in the freezer for well-labeled (date purchased, item and amount) meats, fruits and vegetables, convenience foods and desserts.

  • Pull older items out of the freezer after a big shopping run. Put the newer items in the back, moving the older ones to the front so they get used up. In the refrigerator, keep perishables front and center where you'll see them.

  • Store foods in designated spaces inside your fridge or freezer so you don't spend time hunting down ingredients--and your spouse will always have the answer to "Honey, where's the butter?"

  • Keep like items together: condiments in the door; soda, beer and wine on a top shelf; and yogurt, cottage cheese, hummus and snacks at eye level.

  • Stash meat, seafood and poultry in the middle back of the refrigerator, the coldest spot in the house.

  • Cover liquids and wrap foods stored in the fridge. Uncovered foods release moisture (and get dried out), causing the compressor to work harder.

  • Sweep through your fridge once a week. Throw out any leftovers that won't be eaten, get rid of perishables that are past their prime and wipe down any spills.

Tips & Warnings

  • Don't stand in front of the refrigerator with the door open. It wastes energy and brings down the temperature of your food (which, if done repeatedly, can cause food to spoil prematurely).
  • Set the refrigerator's temperature between 38 and 42 degrees F (3 to 5 C), and the freezer between 0 degrees F (-18 C) or lower. Use your own thermometer for this, as the fridge's dial may not be correct.
  • A humming refrigerator is driving up your electricity bill. Dirty and dusty condenser coils are likely to blame. See 66 Organize Spring Cleaning.
  • Check to see if you have a power-saving or a summerwinter switch. Many refrigerators have a small heater (yes, a heater!) inside the walls to prevent condensation buildup.
  • Ditch the extra fridge or freezer in the garage. The electricity it's using--typically $130 a year--costs far more than the six-pack or two you've got stashed there. Or unplug it until you need it for your next big bash (see 342 Throw a Party).

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