Just in time for Thanksgiving, it's National Clean out Your Refrigerator Day

(CNN) -- Who said springtime was the only season for cleaning?

Get out your trash bags (and plastic gloves and gas masks), because today is National Clean out Your Refrigerator Day.

It's high time to remove the Chinese food cartons that have turned into science experiments and start making room for the Thanksgiving leftovers that will soon be occupying space in your fridge.

The origins of National Clean out Your Refrigerator Day are not entirely clear; one website pins it on a Whirlpool Appliance Ad campaign from years ago, while other sites say it's to make space for Thanksgiving provisions.

I decided I definitely wanted to participate - and said a prayer that those responsible for cleaning the office fridge would also want to get involved.

Sadly, there wasn’t a whole lot in my refrigerator to clean out. There wasn’t much in there at all, just a jug of milk, a jar of peanut butter, several sticks of margarine, two cans of frosting, and half of an onion.

True, it’s been a while since I actually filled my refrigerator with food that would warrant purging on this most sacred of days. But, should I ever stop living like I’m in college and actually fill my fridge with food, what exactly do I need to know about cleaning it out?

I consulted my friend and registered dietician Lindsay Elshalzly, who was recently certified as a ServSafe food handler. She said it’s always good to consult the expiration dates on food labels, but sometimes foods are safe well beyond that date. And, sometimes they expire before. How’s that for vague?

“When in doubt, throw it out,” she said, adding, “The truth is, bacteria can grow on food whether or not it’s in the fridge.” The colder temperatures simply slow the process.

To keep food safe, Elshalzly said a refrigerator should be kept at 40 degrees or below. “The danger zone for food is between 41 and 135 degrees. That’s when bacteria have the greatest chance for multiplying and contaminating food."

So what about the Thanksgiving leftovers the “refrigerator clean out” are intended to make room for?

The USDA recommends storing cooked leftovers in airtight containers and using them within three to four days.

Elshalzly concurs. So after everyone has gone back for seconds, make sure to chill the leftovers as soon as possible to avoid contamination.

“You don’t want to leave food sitting out all day,” Elshalzly said.

And thanks to today’s clean out, your fridge will have plenty of space for stuffing.


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