Spring cleaning can ensure food safety

May 29, 2002|by Lynn F. Little

Spring is here! Along with the many wonders of spring comes the dubious task of spring-cleaning. Whether you're spring-cleaning is a top to bottom thorough cleaning or just a light cleaning, be sure to include your kitchen cupboards, the refrigerator and the freezer.

In cupboards and pantries:

-- Organize your canned goods and other non-perishable foods so that the older products are in front. Check expiration and use-by dates and discard any food that has expired or is past its prime. Date packages that have no dates on them. This is helpful when you are trying to rotate stock so that the oldest products are used first.

-- Look for signs of spoilage. Throw away cans that are cracked, bulging or leaking, or that squirt liquid when opened. Do not taste the food as it may be contaminated with potentially deadly organisms.

-- Check for signs of insect or rodent infestation. Storing opened, non-perishable foods in dry, airtight containers will help maintain freshness and keep insects and rodents out.


-- Make sure your cupboards and pantries are clean, dry, dark and cool. For optimal food storage, cupboards and pantries should be kept between 50 degrees and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the refrigerator:

-- Check the temperature in your refrigerator. The optimal temperature for a refrigerator is between 35 degrees and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigerator temperatures tend to fluctuate from season to season. Inexpensive thermometers can be purchased at your local grocery store.

-- Clean everything out of the refrigerator and wipe down walls and shelves with a solution of water and baking soda. Clean out, then wash and dry all drawers.

-- Check expiration dates and use-by dates as you put foods back in the refrigerator. Make sure foods are either wrapped or in covered containers and dated to help with rotation. Rather than risk foodborne illness, throw away any food that is past its prime.

-- Don't overload the refrigerator. It is important to allow cool air to circulate.

In the freezer:

-- Check the temperature of your freezer. For proper food storage, a temperature of zero degrees Fahrenheit or less should always be maintained.

-- Make sure stored food is wrapped sufficiently. It is recommended that foods purchased frozen should be stored in original packaging.

-- Check labels on both commercially packaged frozen food and food prepared at home for best used by dates and/or the date frozen. If properly packaged, most food can be safely stored in the freezer for six months or longer. If, in the past, you have not labeled food when you put it in the freezer, start now. Labeling each package with the type of food, date and number of servings makes it easy to identify the foods you have and their freshness.

-- Organize your freezer with the oldest foods in front so that they will be used first.

-- Always remember: IF IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!

For more tips on assuring the safety and quality of foods stored in the refrigerator or freezer send a self-addressed, stamped (34-cents postage) business-size envelope to: Maryland Cooperative Extension - Washington County Office, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713. Mark the envelope, "Food Storage."

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with the Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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