When I was a kid, my mom always had an open box of baking soda hanging out inside the door. Periodically, the box would get tossed and replaced by yet another box of baking soda and so the cycle continued. My guess is that more than a handful of you also grew up with this and probably, like me, have a box sitting somewhere amongst our many jars of half used condiments. But for those of you that are asking yourselves why on earth we would have such an item in our refrigerators, I’m here to tell you why.
You may notice sometimes that your refrigerator is a smelly place and the majority of these smells come from strong acids (like lactic acid that comes from dairy products) or bases (spoiled meat and other proteins). Yes my friends, this should transport you magically back to your high school days when you were sitting in chem class wondering, “What the hell am I ever gonna use this stuff for?”
It all comes down to pH. If the pH gets out of whack, the odors will rise which should instantly sound the alarm that something has gone bad in your refrigerator. Baking soda, however, stabilizes your refrigerator environment by absorbing the odors and restoring sanctity. This may not initially seem like a big deal because at least if you can smell something funky, you know to throw it away, but the problem is much bigger than that.
You see, many of the products that you put in your refrigerator are like sponges and will absorb the stronger acids and bases. That means your freshly bought produce can and will absorb the moldy, stinky cheese smell and will thus taste like spoiled, stinky cheese. That bread dough that you just put in your refrigerator to rise; be prepared for your bread to taste like rotted meat. Pretty much anything you put in your refrigerator has the potential to absorb the odors of the items around it unless it is held inside an airtight, sealed container. This is why they have crisper bins for your produce and tupperware for your leftovers because you could ruin any open air food if left unchecked.
As for placement, I always keep mine in the door of the fridge because that’s where my mom kept it. But really, the baking soda should be near the most likely source of odors. If you tend to keep ripe cheeses at home, put the box right next to it. Making lox at home? Put the box there. It’s portable and just because you put it in one place doesn’t mean you can’t move it later.
So do yourself a favor. Go to your refrigerator right now and check the date on your baking soda box. Don’t see a date? That’s because you didn’t write one on there. If you can’t remember when you put that box in there, it’s time to throw it out and buy a new one. This goes the same for those of you without one. It’ll cost you $3 and will last for 3 to 6 months depending on how many odors it absorbs. If nothing else, consider it an insurance policy for your food.