8 Important Refrigerator Do's and Don'ts

To keep your fridge running like new (and your food fresh!), make sure you're treating it right.

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Fridge Smarts

The fridge is the true workhorse of the kitchen — and many of us neglect it. Improper use and lack of care can lead to messes, wasted energy and even foodborne illnesses. While each fridge is a little different, here are some universal do's and don'ts to keep your fridge (and the food inside it!) in tip-top shape.

Do Take Your Fridge's Temperature

Keep the fridge set at a chilly 40 degrees F or below to slow harmful bacteria growth and keep your dinner leftovers safe to eat. Set the freezer at a steady 0 degrees F — cold enough to keep your ice cream frozen, but not so cold that it drains energy.

Do Clean and Inspect the Door Seals Once a Month

If your fridge doors don’t seal properly, cold air can escape, which makes it harder for your fridge to keep its cool. A faulty seal on the freezer can lead to unwanted frosty buildup — think freezer burn on your ice cream and frozen burritos. Clean the seals with warm soapy water to stop any debris or food spills from from blocking the seal. If the seal is cracked or broken, it's time to buy a new seal.

Don't Store Highly Perishable Items in the Door

The door, which gets a good workout opening and closing, is the warmest place in the fridge — so you don't want to put items like milk and eggs there. Keep them on a shelf instead.

Do Separate Some Produce in Different Bins

One bad apple really can spoil the whole bunch. Some fruits, like apples, bananas, avocados and melons, emit ethylene, a ripening gas that causes premature spoilage in neighboring produce. Keep offending fruit away from sensitive greens (which will wilt with exposure) in a separate bin set to low humidity. The open vent will let some of the gas escape and help items last longer.

Do Toss Leftovers in a Timely Fashion

Is last week's take-out OK to eat? How about yesterday's pasta? A general rule of thumb from the USDA: After the fourth day, throw it away.

Don't Use Harsh Chemical Cleaners

Remember, this is where you keep your food! Choose non-toxic green cleaners or mix a little water with some baking soda or white vinegar and scrub away. Once a season, roll up your sleeves, remove all of the food from your fridge and do a deep clean.

Don't Waste Space By Storing the Wrong Stuff

Hot sauce, nut butters, coffee beans and other items that are commonly kept in the fridge don't require refrigeration and do just fine — better even — in the pantry.

Do Clean the Condenser Coils Twice a Year

Out of sight, out of mind? Think again. Dusty coils can keep your fridge from running efficiently and cooling food properly. If the coils are on the back, pull the fridge from the wall; if the coils are on the bottom, simply snap off the kick plate. Just be sure to unplug the fridge first (so you don’t get shocked!). Use a coil brush (available at the hardware store) to knock off dust, then vacuum it up.

Do Change Your Water Filter Every Six Months

Don’t ignore that change filter light on your fridge. Not only does it help purify the water dispensed from your fridge, but also it filters the water for your ice too. Hard water can clog the filter and lead to some funky tasting or smelling ice cubes. You should be changing your water filter at least every six months. If you’re constantly forgetting to order a new filter, subscribe and get a new filter auto shipped to you as a reminder of when it needs to be replaced.

Don’t Ignore Humidity Settings

The average homeowner might be guilty of completely ignoring the humidity level slider on their crisper drawers. Here’s an easy general rule to remember. Use the low-humidity setting for anything that rots easily, like peaches or avocados. The high humidity drawer should be used for things that are prone to wilting like tender greens or herbs.

Do Avoid Food Waste

Simple but effective, move older items and leftovers in your fridge to the front so you can see and grab them first. It’s easy for items to get lost towards the back of the fridge, only to discover them completely fossilized when you’re deep cleaning later.

Don’t Trust Protein Packaging to Contain Mess

Keep packages of raw meat on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator and in a container. If the plastic packaging is even slightly damaged, it can leak juices. It’s better to keep that contained than have to deal with it dripping onto other shelves and fridge items.

Do Invest In Extra Fridge Organizers

Clear bins, shelf dividers, add-on pull out drawers, a lazy Susan and drink holders all make organizing your fridge easy. Clear bins keep small items corralled and help you organize by food type while keeping everything visible. Shelf dividers and extra pull-out drawers maximize the existing unused space. A lazy Susan makes it easy to access condiments without having to dig to the back of the fridge. Keep wine bottles and soda cans from rolling around by investing in drink racks that keep every beverage in place.

Do Take Advantage of Smart Fridge Technology

Depending on the brand, many new refrigerator models have cool app-enabled features. Connect your fridge to other smart devices and use it to keep an eye on not only energy output and maintenance needs, but also what you have in your fridge. Cameras inside your fridge let you get a real time peek at what ingredients you have even if you’re at the store already. Other models let you save recipes, watch a recipe video while you cook and can sync and view your family calendar right from the fridge door.

Don’t Wait to the Clean Fridge

You shouldn’t only clean your fridge seasonally. Prevent big stuck on messes, mystery odors, and overcrowding by giving your fridge a quick clean every time you head to the grocery store. Toss or compost expired or rotten food and give the shelves and compartments a quick wipe down with your favorite food-safe cleaner. That way when you get home with your new groceries, the fridge is ready and waiting to be filled up.