QT 78 – Spring Fridge Cleaning

QT 78 – Spring Fridge Cleaning

Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophe’s constantly mis-numbered series, Quick Tips, where we dive into some facet of food culture to help you make your foods more fun, and your facts more fungible. Today’s topic is one that is no doubt somewhat surprising to hear coming from me, of all people, but it pertains to cleanliness. Specifically, cleaning out your fridge. We’ll talk about when to do it, how to do it, and ways to make it easier, so let’s get our gloves on and our sauces sorted, it’s time for a Quick Tip


Tu Quoque, You Go ‘way

In case it’s been a while since you brushed up on your Latin and/or logic, “Tu Quoque” is a logical fallacy where you point out that your opponent has done either the same thing being discussed, or a similar thing. It’s a type of ad hominem attack, and a close relative to “whataboutism”. At a friendly, cheerful level, it’s like responding to the statement “Dude, don’t eat the last slice of Paul’s birthday cake, what if he wants it?” with “Screw you, you ate the last slice of pizza I ordered two weeks ago.” At a less cheerful level, you have the Soviet propaganda tactic of “And you are lynching blacks”, where, rather than address the human rights concerns and flaws of their system, they pointed out that at least they didn’t murder people over the color of their skin.

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“Murdering people for their POLITICAL beliefs is fine. But for their SKIN? How gauche.”

That…surprisingly dark historical tidbit aside, my POINT was to bring up the fact that I am NOTORIOUSLY umkempt , and perpetually living in self-anointed squalor, so some might object to the idea of me lecturing them about how, when, and why, to clean ANYTHING…and how that argument isn’t a valid one. As parents for millennia have noted, whether or not I personally abide by the lessons I impart does not diminish their accuracy. Or, in other words “Do as I say, not as I do.” (also, my filthiness is rooted in a lot of weird and intricate things, and has honestly been a little exaggerated.)

And in this case, it’s not even all that hypocritical a point, as just a few days ago, my mother and I worked together to clear out some of own refrigerator.


Is this the before or after shot?
Neither, it was a trick question, this was 2 minutes into the process.

So let’s talk about how, why, and when, since who and where are basically covered: “You,” and “your fridge”.

A Brief Disclaimer

Now, according to people who care about this sort of thing, you’re supposed to ‘deep-clean’ your fridge every 3 months. Take everything out, wipe all the shelves, that sort of thing. And let’s all agree: we’re not fucking doing that. That is a 2+ hour project you want me to pull off every 3 months? Screw that. Here’s what I’m going to recommend:  do a deep clean once a year, and then have different mini-cleaning windows by sector. What does that mean? Glad you asked!

Step 1: The Superior Sector solution

This idea is, in theory, very simple: break your fridge up into ‘sectors’ for different goods. So, all your dairy goes in THIS part of the fridge, all your meat goes in THAT part, so on and so forth. This is actually a legal REQUIREMENT in commercial kitchens, by the way; you are violating health code if you store raw meat on the top of your fridge, because then any juices that leak out have the entire fridge to contaminate. So, a good rule of thumb is “The faster it goes bad, the lower it goes in the fridge.” Raw meat and veggie? Down on the bottom. Vinegar based sauces? Top shelf, since those things can keep for literal years.


This bottle is already over a year old. And that’s a BEST BY date. Meaning the hot sauce won’t make you sick, it just won’t taste as good.

This also helps with what we just said about mini-cleaning windows: if you know all the stuff that goes bad fastest is on the bottom shelf, make sure nothing’s expired on it every week. Then, the next row up, check every 2 weeks or something. The specifics will of course depend on your personal fridge layout. For instance, mine has a section for tall beverage containers in the middle left, so that’s where our milk used to end up. Why not on the door? Oh look, another segue!

Step 2: Common Cock-Ups, Clarified

This is a slightly controversial point, so it’s more a “best-practices” ideal than a real suggestion, but IN GENERAL, keeping your eggs, milk, yogurt, and other delicate dairies or proteins on the door of the fridge is actually a somewhat bad idea. See, if it’s on the door, it’s on the part of the fridge that fluctuates the MOST in terms of temperature, because it’s the part most exposed to the outside air and temp.

Now, in most cases, this won’t do MUCH to the aforementioned products: it’ll trim maybe a day or two off of their optimal shelf life. And indeed, many newer fridges have designs that minimize or eliminate this problem. So if it doesn’t apply to you, then just ignore it. The fridge door, not your dairy. Ignoring dairy for too long is an easy way to get some nasty problems.

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I typed “dairy monster” into google, and this was the third result. I was looking for like, a cottage cheese beast, but a truck is nice.

How do you keep that from happening? Well, let me tell you.

 Step 3: The Secret Weapon of Restaurants

In high end restaurants, there is one cooking utensil that chefs are the MOST upset when it’s misused, the most frustrated by new employees’ inability to properly wield it, the key to keeping a commercial kitchen kicking. That tool is painter’s tape.


Spools and spools of slightly sticky paper.

Or Masking tape, if you’re a CHEAPSKATE. And while, of course, I’m joking with that comment, they’re not. High-end chefs take their tape very seriously. You can and will be fired for not using tape correctly in some restaurants. Services have stopped because the wrong WIDTH of tape was grabbed by an intern in a hurry.

So if it’s so damn important, what the hell is it FOR? Labels. Professional kitchens use tape to make labels. What is in a container, when it was made, and who made it are what commonly gets put on a commercial kitchen label. And this practice is something that you should consider using in your own home.


I mean, just look at it.
All of this should be thrown out, because October was WAY too long ago.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I try to smell a jug of milk to see if it’s gone bad, it’s a crapshoot. There might be those little crusty flakes from where milk got under the cap when the last person closed it, I might be stuffed up, and almost every time, I just end up smelling it, remembering I don’t know what fresh milk smells like, and end up having to taste it. But what if I had a slap of tape on the jug that told me it had been opened 5 days ago? No need for doubt, unless I left it on the door, and left the door open…

It’s a fast and easy way to label left=overs, and even the longer-lasting condiments. Take 15 seconds when you put it in the fridge to label when it expires, and you won’t have to turn it around for a minute and squint at a faded number in a couple months. Just today, we threw out a container of pickles because they either expired last month, or 13 months ago, we couldn’t tell. The year had rubbed off the glass of the pickle jar, while the month and date remained.


Pickles are another thing that lasts a heck of a long time.

Heck, use the painter’s tape to establish your sectors! Label your shelves with “dairy”, “meat”, etc, to help your family (or inebriated you) put stuff back where it belongs! Now, you, at home, can probably use masking tape. It’s not favored in professional kitchens because it CAN leave a slight residue, which is less of an issue for you, unless you’re using bins and wanna swap what’s in them very often. Speaking of which.

Step 4: A Bin, A Basket, Other Tricks and Task…ets

Now, I’m not going to go as far as other sites and say that EVERYTHING in your fridge should be organized in clear bins. That feels a little excessive to me. What I DO like the idea of is the “Eat Me First” bin: consider getting a clear plastic bin into which you move foods that haven’t QUITE expired, but will soon. This gives you the visual cue of “Oh, I need to use up that spaghetti sauce in the next couple days”, helping you plan meals, and gives you an easy place to check first for things to throw away.

Technically, places recommend that whenever you buy condiments or get left-overs, you’re supposed to store them with the newest ones in the BACK, so you have to eat the older stuff to get to the newer. And that suggestion has always sounded just too much work for me. I mean, I gotta unload the shelf and put the thing in the back? Ugh. Some people suggest using a lazy susan to fix this issue, and to fix like, areas of condiments: if you can rotate the back to the front, you don’t have to pull things out to get what you want. And is that the single most brilliant use I’ve ever heard for a Lazy Susan? No. It’s the SECOND-most, but that’s not relevant. The point is that it’s a pretty good idea.


The most brilliant use of a Lazy Susan is, and will always be, using them to serve family style meals and dim sum without passing plates with both hands.

Normally in a list like this, you would end on point 5, since that’s a nice, thematically “complete” number. But it’s a warm spring day, 4’s my personal lucky number, and while my level of filthiness has been exaggerated, my levels of sloth are pretty accurately reported, so I’m going to call it. Try these ideas out, spend a little bit of time to get some spring cleaning done, and gear up for some spring and summer suppers. ESSS-SSSSOUNDDSSSSSSSSSSSSS……ZZZ.ZZZ.

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