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    Spring Into Better Health: Refrigerator Edition

a man opening a refrigerator door with fruits and vegetables on the shelf

Oftentimes, food items can expire in the refrigerator or may get stuck in the far back corner, resulting in forgotten, potentially expired items. Sometimes, food spills and sticks cause refrigerators to look more like a science project than a storage place for food.

“First, throw away any food that may be questionable. Most canned items have an expiration date, but if there’s no expiration date, use your best judgment. When in doubt, throw it out,” says Amanda Leisenheimer, registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System. “Cleaning your refrigerator is also a good time to throw away any enticing, unhealthy food, such as whipped cream, chocolate syrup,  frosting, salted caramel ice cream topping, full-fat mayonnaise, Cheez Whiz or whatever your downfall to losing weight might be.”

Leisenheimer goes on to suggest removing all foods and items from your refrigerator, and wiping the bottoms. She says to clean your refrigerator with warm dish soap and water, and then wipe it dry with a towel.

“This will prevent bacteria from growing in your refrigerator,” says Leisenheimer. “At this point, it’s also a good time to check the temperature and make sure your refrigerator is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less.”

Use the fruit and vegetable bins for their intended food occupants — fruits and vegetables. Stock up on these items, and make them easy to grab and eat by washing and cutting them into snack-sized portions. Make snacking healthy by taking the effort out of the equation when your cravings hit.

“Consider the colors of your fruits and vegetables, which does matter,” adds Leisenheimer. “More intense color means more nutrients.”

When considering breads, choose whole grains to increase fiber. Opt for condiments like low-fat mayonnaise, yogurt, cheese and milk. Reduced-fat cheese or milk are good second choices. Leave room on the bottom shelf to properly thaw frozen meats. Use a plate under the meat to catch any possible liquids and avoid contaminating other foods.

“Thawing meat in the refrigerator can take time, so plan ahead,” says Leisenheimer. “Give yourself time to thaw out frozen foods depending on their size. Remember to thaw meat in the refrigerator rather than on the counter to avoid bacteria growth and foodborne illness.”