3 Steps to a Clean and Safe Fridge for People With Cancer

March 22, 2016
Kristina Beaugh, MPH

Kristina Beaugh, MPH, is a member of the Food Safety Education Staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Spring is finally here! You know what that means...time for some spring cleaning! While you’re cleaning the entire house, don’t forget the most important and most used appliance in your home—your refrigerator. A clean and organized refrigerator can help you avoid having food go bad and lower your risk of foodborne illness. For people with cancer, foodborne illness can lead to serious infection, hospitalization, or even death.

Use these 3 tips to make sure your refrigerator is organized for food safety.

#1. The Right Temperature

Refrigeration slows the growth of bacteria on your food. Keep your fridge and freezer at temperatures that will keep your food safe. Here’s a bonus: proper temperature settings will help your food stay fresh longer, too. Your refrigerator should be set to 40°F or below. Your freezer should be set to 0°F or below. You can measure your fridge’s internal temperature with an appliance thermometer.

#2. Store Food Safely

Where you store your foods in the fridge is just as important as the temperature setting. Different locations have different effects on food safety and freshness. Here are some suggestions for a healthy fridge:

  • Store raw meat and poultry in a sealed container or securely wrapped on a plate to prevent raw juices from contaminating other foods.

  • Sealed crisper drawers provide an ideal storage environment for fruits and vegetables. Some refrigerators let you set each drawer’s humidity level. If yours does, take advantage of this feature! Vegetables require higher humidity, whereas fruits require lower humidity.

  • Never store perishable foods in the door! The temperature of the door changes every time you open it. Instead, store things like juice, water, and condiments in the door.

  • Perishable foods like eggs, dairy, and raw meat and poultry should be stored on shelves in the main compartment, where the temperature is more stable.

  • Frozen food is safe forever. But, food that has been frozen for a long time may change in texture, not taste as good, or be of lower quality.

If you’re wondering how long different foods last in the fridge and freezer, don’t worry. You’re not alone. A general rule for refrigerator storage is 3–4 days for cooked foods, 1–2 days for poultry and ground meat, and up to 5 days for whole cuts of meat. share on twitter For storage information on more than 400 foods and beverages, download the USDA’s FoodKeeper mobile app. It’s free and it’s available for Apple and Android products.

#3. Keep It Clean

Keeping a clean refrigerator will take you a long way toward having safe foods. Wipe up spills immediately. Clean surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Sanitize your refrigerator with a diluted bleach solution: 1 tablespoon of unscented bleach added to 1 gallon of water. To keep your refrigerator smelling fresh and to help eliminate odors, place an opened box of baking soda on a shelf.

Need Help?

If you have more questions about food safety or organizing your fridge, you can call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov, available from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.