By Amanda Addey-Jibb
Welcome back to the final installment in a series on spring cleaning! I hope you’ve been keeping up and clearing that clutter little by little. Today we will focus our efforts on the kitchen–my personal least favourite place to clean and therefore the most important for me. It should also be important for you because this is most likely where you prepare and store the things you will later consume, so take a look for the sake of your health. Most of these suggestions are things we all know, so just consider it a gentle reminder.
Spring cleaning is the best opportunity to do that dreaded task of going through your pantry. YAY!!! To be fair, if you’re still in your first year in Japan, you probably won’t have much excess food (hopefully). If you are a 2nd-5th year ALT, this is for you.
My rule of thumb is to look over all of the stuff in your cabinets, and if you can’t remember when you bought it, let it go. If you’re unsure when it expires, let it go. If you think it’s still good but you don’t really want to eat it, let it go. Make sure to pay special attention to spices, because ground spices tend to only be good for 2-3 years. Emptying out cans and glass jars is a real pain in Japan, but trust me when I say it’s easier to do this now than have to do it the month before you leave—especially if you are leaving this summer.
And don’t forget about your freezer! Visually check open bags and feel unopened bags for freezer burn or built-up ice on food. If you have meat that’s been in there for a while, I would suggest tossing it regardless, but here are some rough guidelines to follow:
Bacon, Sausage, Hot dogs, Ham: 1 – 2 months
Chicken: 9 months – 1 year
Steak: 6 months – 1 year
Fish: 3 – 8 months
Most Leftovers: Typically 1 – 3 months
Let’s start with the most basic of all kitchen appliances, the fridge. It may seem like a hassle to bend over and scrub the inside walls, but you really don’t have to go to all that trouble. Just pull out the removable shelves and baskets one by one and wash them in the sink! You can wash them like you would any other dishes. It’s very convenient. Dry them with a towel before placing them back in the fridge.
If you don’t already clean your microwave frequently, the time has come! Lucky for you, there is a simpler method than trying to just scrub the grime off with elbow grease. Place a large bowl of vinegar (nature’s miracle cleaner) inside, or a bowl of water with a chopped lemon, and microwave for about 2 minutes or until boiling and steamy. Let sit for about 15 minutes before opening the microwave. Then you should be able to wipe down the sides effortlessly with a sponge or hand towel.
An oft forgotten but nevertheless important kitchen appliance to clean is the coffee machine. You should avoid buildup of mold in your appliance by descaling it every few months, or as often as once a month if you use it daily. First, run a brew of a half water half vinegar solution, but stop it half way through. Wait 30 minutes, then restart the cycle to completion. This will sanitize and remove the mineral buildup and calcification in your machine. Run another brew of just pure water with a clean coffee filter and you’re good to start brewing again.
Lastly, be sure to clean the places most likely to develop dirt and bacteria–your garbage cans and kitchen sink. Especially if something has leaked from the garbage bag, it’s a good idea to wipe down the surface and then spray with a bacterial disinfectant. As for the sink, make sure to wipe it down and clean out the food trap regularly after doing dishes.
Lastly (and this is the hardest part), try to deal with all the garbage you just accumulated and any that you’ve been storing. How many months in a row are you going to miss PET bottle day? No longer. Start by cleaning out all your containers and bottles. Figure out your city’s garbage requirements, and then sort all that trash into the correct bags. I like to pile all my trash in the genkan right away so that I have to stare at it in disappointment every morning before work. Now I never forget to take out the trash.
All that may seem like a lot to do, but remember you don’t have to do it all at once. Carve out an hour or two on the weekend to get it all done. I know you can do it! You’ll feel better for it.