Most people don’t clean their refrigerators more than once or twice a year, according to The Wall Street Journal. That’s an 11 on the nastiness scale! If you don’t clean your refrigerator unless something forces you to do so, like a spill or a bad odor, or if you aren’t regularly tossing out old containers and giving the fridge shelves and drawers a good scrub, your fridge will become a breeding ground for all kinds of disgusting substances. Here are seven gross things that are probably in your fridge right now.
1. Expired Condiments
Remember that sriracha hot chili sauce you had to have because it was the new food trend? You bought it, used it once, and then forgot about it because it was just way too spicy. Chances are you have other condiments hanging out in your refrigerator that you haven’t noticed for ages.
Many people don’t throw away their condiments because there is so much left in the bottle. But, if it is expired or hasn’t been used since the Obama administration, you need to toss it. It’s always a good idea to go through your stash of sauces and condiments and throw away the ones that you don’t use.
Eating leftovers is a great way to reduce food waste, but if yours have sat in your fridge for longer than 48 hours, then you need to toss them into the garbage right away. Even if your leftovers look and smell fine, after 48 hours they start to spoil, and the risk of food poisoning skyrockets.
It’s a good idea to label your leftovers. The label should include what is inside and the date you put the leftovers in the fridge. This will help you to avoid asking the inevitable question: are these still good?
3. Warm Dairy
It may seem like a good idea to put your gallon of milk in the door of your refrigerator, along with the butter and cheese, because it all fits so well. But it is the worst place for you to put your dairy, because it is the warmest place in the fridge.
“Items kept in the refrigerator door are five degrees warmer than [those kept] inside the unit,” explains food safety expert Jeff Nelkin. “What do you find in the door? Milk, eggs, cheese…”
This doesn’t mean that your dairy will go bad if you keep it in the door, but you should definitely check it. And then move it to a shelf.
4. Fermented Foods
You might think you can keep fermented foods until you die, but that isn’t really how it works. Examine jars of pickles, yogurt, sauerkraut, or miso that are stuffed in the back of your fridge. While these things last longer than most things in your refrigerator, once you open sauerkraut or yogurt, it only lasts for about a week. And while pickles and miso last for about a year, it would be wise to check on them just to make sure they are still good.
5. Unsealed Food
If you open up a can of food and put it directly into the fridge instead of into an airtight container first, that could cause some problems. In just 24 hours, the metals in the can will seep into your food. That can cause nausea, vomiting, or something even more serious.
If you have anything sitting in its original can, go ahead and put it in the trash. And, next time, take a minute to put the food into a sealable container so that the food is safe to eat.
6. E. Coli
Sometimes you go a bit overboard when buying fresh vegetables — your eyes are bigger than your stomach, and that results in your veggies rotting in the fridge drawer.
If your veggies sit in the drawer too long and start to rot, your produce can become covered in E. coli, and the bacteria can stay behind when you throw the veggies out. The veggie drawer is the dirtiest place in your fridge, and it can have up to 750 times the amount of bacteria that is considered safe.
But rotting veggies aren’t the only disgusting things in your vegetable drawer…
7. Meat Juice
Since your vegetable drawer is at the bottom of the fridge, it collects everything leaking from higher up in the fridge. When you store meat and poultry on the higher shelves, the meat juices leak down into your veggies.
Even if your produce is fresh and crisp in the drawer, meat juice dripping down onto it can infect it with E. coli and salmonella. And if you are serving those veggies raw, they can cause some serious health issues.
The solution is to store your meat in the lowest part of the fridge, which means dedicating a crisper drawer to meat. But that will keep the meat from dripping onto your fresh produce.