You hear the words “spring cleaning” and you automatically think of an overfilled closet, cluttered garage or a messy basement filled with so many boxes you can’t even see the floor. But what about the clutter you overlooked in the heart of the home? No, not the pile of plastic containers and lids that don’t match — more important than that, your refrigerator!

“Not only will a clean refrigerator and freezer eliminate clutter, but proper food storage in a clean fridge and freezer can eliminate foods that may have expired or become contaminated and could lead to bigger health issues,” said Cheryl Kuhta-Sutter, a registered dietitian with Novant Health.

A few simple tips will help keep your fridge clean and your food safe.

'When in doubt, throw it out'

The rule of thumb, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is “when in doubt, throw it out.”

“If food looks or smells strange, don’t risk tasting it,” Kuhta-Sutter said. “Go ahead and toss it.”

There are a handful of foods, like hard cheeses, where mold can be cut safely away if a large enough portion is removed. However, in general, food that has mold needs to be discarded. To avoid unwanted bacteria growth and cross-contamination to fresh food, immediately wipe up spills and spots where molded products have been kept.

Check the temperature of your freezer and refrigerator

It is important to make sure the thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer are accurate and working properly. Refrigerators should stay below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and freezers below zero degrees Fahrenheit, according to the FDA . In order to ensure food is chilling properly, avoid over packing, which inhibits cold air from circulating. 

“When it comes to organizing your refrigerator and freezer, just like in your shopping cart, keep fresh fruits and vegetables and other items separate from raw meat, poultry and seafood,” she said. It is best to store raw meat, poultry and seafood on the bottom shelf and wrapped in plastic as to not drip onto other foods.

Refresh and restock

With a clean fridge and freezer ready to be filled, take advantage of starting fresh and stocking your fridge with healthy choices.

“To keep costs down, but maintain a healthy lifestyle, plan your meals for the week before heading to the grocery store and purchase produce that’s in season,” Kuhta-Sutter said. Another way you can stretch your dollars and not your waistband is to compare unit prices and store brands.

Cleaning your refrigerator should always be a part of your kitchen cleaning routine. “Checking food expiration dates and wiping up spills should be done daily,” Kuhta-Sutter added. Full clean-outs and disinfecting the shelves and storage bins should be done seasonally. Add your refrigerator to your spring cleaning list to keep the heart of your home happy and healthy.