OK, be honest... when's the last time you cleaned out your fridge? Do you know what's in there... lurking in the back? I have to be honest, I am obsessive about cleaning out my fridge and always knowing what's in there. I'm not that way about most things but our food stocks must be in order and a mental list be always be accessible at all times. So what's the best way to keep track of your food? Here are some tips that have helped me keep tabs on things.
1. Take It All Out - If you haven't taken a refrigerator inventory in a long time, take everything out and put it on your kitchen table. Then wash down the inside of your refrigerator, including the bins. This will give you a clean slate to start with.
2. Sort It - First get rid of anything that is obviously spoiled. Next groups things such as condiments, fruits and vegetables and deli items.
3. Date It - Check your expiration dates. If the date has passed toss it out. Don't risk your health if you think something is still good but the date has passed toss it anyhow.
4. Check your leftovers - If you have any leftovers older than 3 days old toss them. Bacteria can grow quickly on food so even if you think it's still good it's better to be safe.
5. Freeze it - any foods such as leftovers that you are not planning to eat in the next couple of days should go in the freezer. You can always microwave them if you need them in a hurry.
6. Put it all back - Start by putting all your vegetables back in the veggie bin and cold cuts in the cold cut bin. Put items that last longest towards the back and the most perishable items in the front.
7. Are you finished? - There are certain items that can and should be refrigerated that most people don't think of. Nuts, harder grains such as barley, brown rice and steel cut oatmeal should be kept refrigerated. Ketchup, peanut butter (especially the natural kind) and cooking oil should also be refrigerated to give it a longer shelf life. Milk can be frozen and so can cheese, although it may tend to crumble when you grate it after thawed.
8. For the future - To keep your refrigerator straightened out on a normal basis keep the following tips in mind.
- Freeze leftovers that won't be used within 3 days.
- Freeze fresh meats that won't be used within 2 days.
- Don't overstock your fridge. Shop more often so that you don't buy too much at one time.
- Do a weekly toss of items that have spoiled or things that your kids have insisted they will eat *later* and you know they won't.