A clean, well-stocked refrigerator may be the last thing you associate with better diabetes control. But it can make a bigger difference than you think. In addition to providing an efficient and functional space for healthy food and insulin storage, a spotless and organized refrigerator can keep you from getting sick. People with diabetes are at higher risk for developing serious complications from foodborne illnesses.
Here are seven steps to help you make over your fridge and freezer:
1) Start with a clean slate. If it’s been a while since you gave your refrigerator a thorough cleaning, now is the time. Empty out every last item, even the baking soda box. Anything expired or unrecognizable should go right in the trash. Put everything else in a clean cooler with ice packs so food stays cold while you clean. Most refrigerator/freezer units sold today are self-defrosting, but if you have an older unit, take the time to defrost your freezer as well. Once empty, give every surface of the fridge and freezer a scrub with warm, soapy water. Remove shelves and drawers to clean them thoroughly. Make sure everything is dried off well before food goes back in.
Finally, while your fridge is still empty, pull it out and clean behind and under it. You should also vacuum out any vents. Accumulated dust can make your refrigerator run less efficiently, and can affect temperatures.
To make sure your fridge stays germ-free in-between big cleanings, make a practice of wiping off the bottoms of bottles, jars, and other containers before they go back in the refrigerator. Wipe up any spills immediately.
2) Check your temperatures. Your fridge should be set for 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower and the freezer for 0 degrees. The top shelf of your refrigerator is the warmest spot, and the bottom, the coolest (so storing items like soda and water on the top shelf is a smart strategy).
If you have freezer foods getting soft or fridge foods freezing, and your thermostat is adjusted correctly, it’s time to get out the owners manual and if needed, call a pro to take care of the problem. The money saved in ruined food is more than worth a service call.
3) Create your game plan. Choosing an organization strategy that works for you is important. Foods and drinks you use often should be easy to access. Use drawers for their designated purpose, as they typically provide the ideal temperature and humidity for the foods they are designed to hold. If you don’t have enough drawer space, consider purchasing some small, clear baskets to group like items together. Also useful for expanding storage space is a Lazy Susan inside the fridge.
4) Fill ‘er up again. For those items that only require refrigeration after opening, such as condiments and some juices, only keep the “in use” item in the fridge and store back ups in the pantry. This will help you maximize available space in your refrigerator. Meat, poultry, and seafood should be stored on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator where the temps are coolest.
If you store insulin in your fridge, make sure that new prescriptions with expiration dates further out are placed behind vials or pens that are set to expire sooner. Keep your insulin in a convenient spot in the front or in the door of the fridge. Many people prefer to use the butter compartment of the fridge for this purpose, which is great as it is highly visible. Or, you can again use a small clear basket to store in the door or on a shelf.
5) Wrap right before storing. Raw meats should be wrapped in plastic and/or aluminum foil in a way that prevents any dripping. Never store raw meat or poultry with or above cooked food to avoid cross contamination.
Store produce in perforated bags to allow “ripening” gases to escape (you can make your own by punching holes an inch apart in a storage bag). If possible, separate veggies from fruits, and don’t wash either until you are ready to use them to extend their shelf life.
When freezing foods, use plastic freezer bags with zippers or vacuum-sealed bags designed for the purpose. Clearly label them with the contents and the date frozen. It’s a good idea to freeze cooked food in individual portions for convenience’s sake.
6) Know what doesn’t go in the fridge. Tomatoes, onions, potatoes, bananas, avocados, and garlic do not belong in the refrigerator. Neither do whole melons or pineapples (although these should be refrigerated after you cut them up.
If you eat bread, know that bread should not go in the refrigerator either, as it will quickly stale. Keep it in a breadbox or on the counter. If you want to store bread for extended periods of time, freeze it. The same goes for gluten-free varieties.
7) Store leftovers safely. Some people designate a shelf of the refrigerator solely for leftovers so these foods don’t get lost in the “back of the fridge black hole.” It’s a good idea to invest in some clear containers for storing these foods. You should also label them as soon as they go into the container with masking tape and markers or eraseable food storage labels. Write the contents and the storage date on the label. Safe storage times for leftovers vary by foods; be aware of these storage times and follow them to avoid foodborne illness.