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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - The Refrigerator

Frugal Kitchens 101
A week ago I decided to tackle the refrigerator. We have a newer Whirlpool® ED2FHGXS EnergyStar® qualified refrigerator bought in 2006. Over the holiday season and entertaining during January the refrigerator saw a lot of extra use. I kept things in order by cleaning and washing shelves one at a time as they were temporarily cleared but with spring just around the corner I decided to do a large scale, top to bottom cleaning. Why?

Refrigerators in General
First before I talk about why it is important to keep your refrigerator clean I want to make a couple of comments about refrigerators in general. From the time you put a food into the refrigerator you are essentially paying to store that food. That increases the overall cost of that food. Keeping foods in your refrigerator beyond their expiry dates or as science experiments is costing you money! It is also a waste of energy usage to keep things like soda in your refrigerator as these can bee cooled using ice cubes something you are paying to make whether you have an ice maker or not.

Depending on the age of your refrigerator, you are spending a considerable amount of money annually simply to store your food in the refrigerator. If you have a refrigerator that is over 10 years old, replace it if at all possible with and EnergyStar® qualified refrigerator. The payback in energy savings alone is 3 to 4 years or less. However, do not make the mistake of keeping that old refrigerator for a bar fridge or to take the pressure of your main fridge when entertaining. If you need extra refrigerator space for entertaining or beverages you are further off buying a small, energy efficient bar (under the counter) refrigerator. Leave it plugged in only when needed. Alternatives to this is using a large cooler or in cold climates use a protected outdoor space or unheated sunporch.

If you are not in the position to replace your refrigerator or are renting and cannot replace the appliance make sure the seal is tight. Do the dollar bill test. Take a dollar bill and place between the door opening frame and the seal. Shut the door. If you can easily pull the dollar bill out the refrigerator seal needs to be replaced. Two more ways to save on the costs of operating a refrigerator are to set the temperature properly between 3ºC (37ºF) and 4ºC (40ºF). Do not rely on the graded fridge settings but rather use a refrigerator thermometer. Do not keep your fridge colder as that wastes electricity and warmer can cause food spoilage.

Why You Should Keep Your Refrigerator Clean
The obvious answer to why you should keep your refrigerator clean is of course it is storing foods that will go in your body. For that reason alone molds and spoilage should be avoided because let's face it these things can make us quite ill and in some cases even be fatal. But there are other reasons to keep your refrigerator clean, organized and decluttered with the many reason being saving money in electrical costs. Air circulation is critical for proper refrigerator operation and that applies to both outside and inside. Outside keep those coils squeaky clean, dusting often as a layer of dust reduces energy efficiency. In warmer climates consider installing a solar operated refrigerator fan to help cool the coils like those used for RV's and travel trailers. This type of set-up is an easy DIY project that will cost about $40 but will save you a considerable amount more than that by improving the energy efficiency of your refrigerator. Using solar means this cooling boost will not cost you anything in terms of electricity.

An over stuffed refrigerator costs more to operate because air circulation within the cooling compartment is restricted. This results in warm spots in the refrigerator that can cause food spoilage without you realizing it even if your refrigerator thermometer reads correctly. An over stuffed, cluttered fridge costs you much more though. It can greatly increase food wastage as smaller bits and pieces of left-overs get shoved to the back hidden out of sight until they start growing and you have to toss them.

Ideally your refrigerator should be cleaned top to bottom weekly the day before you do your major grocery shopping or before adding a large influx of food for entertaining. Realistically doing a complete cleaning once per month is sufficient while wiping down shelves as spills happen. At least twice a year but preferably quarterly go through all sauces and bottled goods in the refrigerator getting rid of any that are expired. Recycle the bottles and compost the contents. Keeping your fridge decluttered will minimize any waste but be brutal. It is better not to take chances with possible illness or worse!

How to Effectively Clean Your Fridge The Low Cost Effective Way
Vacuum or use a Swiffer® dust cloth to clean the coils. Pull out the drip tray and wash out with soap and water. Replace any water filter cartridges if necessary, usually every 6 months. Turn off your refrigerator. Start with the top shelf and remove everything. Wash the shelf with hot, soapy water and the sides of the fridge. Remove any marking or stains with a Magic Eraser®. Rinse with a mixture of hot water and baking soda. Dry the shelf and sides. Go through everything that was on that shelf removing anything that is past it's expiry date or shows sighs of spoilage. Replace the rest on that shelf and move onto the next shelf. When you get to the cheese drawer and crispers remove and wash. Rinse with the baking soda mixture and dry. Once you have gone through the entire fridge in this manner re-organize if desired. Try to keep one empty shelf. My kids get a real laugh out of this one but seriously during the week this can be used as the left-over shelf and when entertaining for any dishes that need to be refrigerated until serving.

Effective Refrigerator Storage
It is very important that left-overs not be left on this shelf for more than 3 days. Either use them within 3 days, freeze or toss/compost. This will keep the refrigerator clutter under control. It is also very important to store foods properly. Vacuum seal produce in canisters for short term storage and always vacuum seal cheeses to maximize the storage times. Set the humidity settings for your crisper to higher for leafy greens and produce without thick skins. Set it to lower for citrus and thicker skinned fruits and vegetables. Don't store foods that do not require refrigeration in the fridge (eg. bread). Use well sealed, lidded containers such as Tupperware®, Gladware®, Ziploc® reusable containers or casserole pan lids. Avoid using tinfoil, plastic wrap, plastic storage bags and wax paper as these are single use, disposable. All of these ultimately add to your overall cost of food storage. For example, Ziploc® storage bags cost me about 19¢ for the large size and 24¢ for the freezer bags so every time I use one of these bags I have added that cost to the food being stored along with the electricity to store that food until being used. Recycled sour cream or cottage cheese containers work well too just be sure to label. Vacuum sealed mason jars or any jar that a standard mason jar lid will fit (eg. Renee's, mayo, some store bought pasta sauces) can be used and re-used for refrigerated food storage at no cost for the container. Keep those lids as well for sauces and dips you want to store in the fridge until using.


Garden Gnome

3 food lovers commented:

April said...

Wow, that's some great information! Thanks!

The Petersons said...

Great tips! I think I'll clean out my fridge tomorrow. Thanks!

Garden Gnome said...

You are quite welcome! I hope these tips help all who read them :)