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For whatever reason, spring is the time to clean. (Let's just hope that it's not the only time you clean!) A deep scrubbing is necessary, particularly in the refrigerators of home kitchens, where bacteria can thrive. Spoilage bacteria (bacteria that causes deterioration in foods) slows down but can still grow at refrigeration temperatures (think moldy or slimy food). Pathogenic bacteria (bacteria that can lead to serious illness and death) can actually thrive in refrigerators; the scary thing is, you can't even see it.

Unplug the refrigerator and clean the condenser coil with a brush or vacuum to remove lint and allow airflow. The next step is to clean out the refrigerator and discard what is deteriorating or past it's prime. Don't leave food out of the refrigerator for more than two hours; if needed, prepare a cooler with ice packs or ice. Take note to what foods need to be used, and plan meals accordingly. Remove shelves and bins as able, and wash them with warm soapy water in the sink. If you have glass shelves, let them come to room temperature before exposing them to hot water, which may cause the glass to break. Let them air dry, or dry with a clean towel.

When putting items back in the refrigerator, consider placement. Don't store perishable foods, such as milk or eggs, in the door, which is the warmest area. Place a refrigerator thermometer on the shelves, even if your refrigerator has a built-in thermometer; you'll know what the temperature is in case of an outage. If a spill happens, don't let it sit there and allow bacteria to grow; clean it up immediately. Cleaning the refrigerator shouldn't be a once a year job; make it a habit!

Quick Tomato Vegetable Soup (Printable PDF)

2 cups frozen mixed vegetables (or whatever leftover vegetables you have)

1 can (about 2 cups) tomato basil soup

1 can (12.5 oz.) chicken, drained and rinsed (optional)

2 teaspoons dried oregano

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Cook frozen vegetables in the microwave according to package directions. Combine all ingredients in medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Yield: 4 servings (1 ¼ cup each)

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 170 calories, 3 grams fat, 490 milligrams sodium, 22 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 13 grams protein

Source: University of Illinois Extension website- Eat.Move.Save. Making Healthier Choices on a Budget