See this refrigerator? See how clean and organized it is? It is clearly a stock photograph, carefully composed and nice and neat...and absolutely unrealistic. Nobody has a refrigerator that clean, especially this time of year, when the holidays are over, but holiday food might still be hiding out. The University of Missouri Extension office reminds everyone to take a look in the back of the fridge, just in case there are any forgotten leftovers liquefying, growing fuzz, or just stinkin' things up.

"Often times we forget what is in the fridge, or it gets pushed to the back of the shelf to be forgotten," said the MU Extension in a news release. "Spoiled food can give off odors and affect other foods in which they may come in contact. Take a few minutes each month to clean out those shelves."

Here are a few tips the Extension Office recommends for keeping your refrigerator clean, and your food safe.

1. Remove leftovers. A general rule of thumb is 3-4 days for cooked food, and 1-2 days for raw food.

2. Wipe off selves with hot, soapy water, rinse and dry. Wash out trays and dry. Wash and dry gasket and closing surfaces as needed.

3. Place baking soda in the refrigerator to absorb odors.

4. Wipe up spills when they occur.

5. Remove spoiled food immediately.

6. Avoid harsh, abrasive cleaners as they could harm the finish.

7. Clean door handles as they become soiled.

8. Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees or below, and the freezer at zero or below.

9. Clean the exterior with a soft cloth and mild detergent, or a cleaner or polish recommended for appliance surfaces.

10. Clean coils and grill several times a year with a brush or vacuum to remove dirt and lent. This will help the unit run efficiently and save energy. Remember to wipe off the top and back.

These all sound like pretty good tips. You would hope most people don't need to be reminded of removing spoiled food "immediately" - doesn't everybody throw it out as soon as we see it (or smell it)? - but I guess it doesn't hurt to mention it. Cleaning the refrigerator handle is one of the things I hadn't really thought a lot about. Who knows what kind of greasy mess gets left behind on those things? It probably needs to be cleaned more often at my house.

Follow these tips, and your fridge just might end up looking a little more like the photo above, instead of the photo below, which is an actual refrigerator, not a stock refrigerator. This refrigerator is clearly not in compliance with the MU Extension's tips!

Kurt Parsons