Spring is in the air, but you’d better make sure your kitchen is ready. With the warm weather comes not only delicious produce, but also the possibility of insects and bacteria that can make you sick. Here are five things you can do to make sure your kitchen is in tiptop shape this spring.
1. Defrost the Freezer
In order to make sure your freezer works properly, it should be unplugged and defrosted every so often. Oftentimes your freezer is connected to your refrigerator, so you’ll get a two-for-one cleaning of both areas. Once the fridge and freezer are defrosted, take a soapy sponge and clean out all the drawers and shelves. Bacteria actually like the produce drawers, so be sure to get them nice and clean.
2. First In, First Out
This is the method restaurants use to get their pantry, refrigerator and freezer in order. You can do it on a smaller scale in your own kitchen. Check the dates of all the items and discard any that are past the “use by” date. Technically, you can use items past the “use by” date, but if items are months or years past their dates, it’s probably time to discard them. Next, organize your pantry, refrigerator and freezer so you can see everything you have and you don’t buy more of what you don’t need.
3. Change the Sponges and Towels
Many folks forget to change their sponges and replace or wash their kitchen towels. Dirty sponges can transfer bacteria from one surface to the other. Once a sponge is torn and dirty, it’s time for a new one. The kitchen towels should really be designated for a task. You shouldn’t be drying dishes, holding hot food and wiping up spills on the floor with the same towel. Use different-colored towels for different tasks to help minimize cross-contamination.
4. Check the Cutting Boards
Whether you like wood or plastic, cutting boards get abused over time. Spring is a good time to examine your cutting boards to see if they have any deep cracks or crevices. If they do, make sure to replace them. If you choose wooden cutting boards, make sure they’re made of a hardwood like maple or oak.
5. Prepare Your Outdoor Gear
Outdoor picnics and barbecues begin in the spring. Stock up on ice packs, coolers, a meat thermometer and disposable paper goods if you plan on toting around food in the warmer weather. Use at least two coolers, one for raw meats and one for ready-to-eat salads and beverages, in order to avoid cross-contamination. Make sure you have several sets of utensils and plates in order to separate the raw and cooked meats. Finally, always carry a meat thermometer when heading to a cookout. Studies have found that you cannot tell if meat is fully cooked by just looking at it. Rather, a thermometer should be used in order to measure the internal temperature.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.