How to Properly Organize a Cluttered Fridge
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A cluttered fridge isn’t just a strain on the eyes — knowing exactly what’s in your fridge (and where) can prevent you from doubling up on groceries or letting forgotten produce go bad. Plus, it’ll help you find your most-used ingredients in a pinch, cutting back on cooking prep time and making all your kitchen activities more enjoyable and efficient. Here, we’ll teach you how to organize your fridge for optimal storage and ease of use.
The first step to organizing a cluttered fridge is to take everything out of it and start from scratch. As you’re removing items, arrange them in general categories on your counter or in a cooler — condiments should go with other condiments, meats with other meats, produce with other produce. While any spoiled products should go straight in the trash, take the time to evaluate some of your lesser-used ingredients. (If you have a half-full bottle of barbecue sauce that hasn’t expired, avoid throwing it out. Instead, make a note to find recipes that will help you use it up in the coming weeks.)
After your drawers and shelves are clear, wipe everything down with a disinfecting spray and scrub any hard-to-clean spills or stains.
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Your fridge might keep everything in it below 40 degrees, but the temperature differences vary widely from one region to the next. Knowing which parts of your fridge are coldest — and which are warmest — can make it easy for you to extend the shelf life of your foods.
The Fridge Door
The fridge door has the most inconsistent temperature of any region in your fridge since it’s exposed to room temperature air every time you open it. You’ll want to keep hard-to-perish items on your fridge door, including:
- Condiments: peanut butter, jelly, ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, capers, pickles
- Non-dairy beverages: soda, water, orange juice
The Top Shelf
The top shelf maintains a consistent temperature but is the warmest shelf. This is because cold air naturally drops to the bottom of your fridge, regardless of the temperature setting. Avoid putting meat or dairy on the top shelf, and store the following items instead:
- Leftovers: homemade leftovers, takeout, Rotisserie chickens (pushed to the back of the fridge, where it’s coldest)
- Packaged foods: hummus, dips, packaged salads and other ready-to-eat foods
- Other items: butter, leafy herbs (stored in a Mason jar filled halfway with water)
The Middle Shelf
The middle shelf is cooler than the top shelf, which makes it the perfect spot for delicate, non-meat items like dairy. Here’s what to store on the middle shelf:
- Cheese and other dairy: eggs, hard and soft cheeses (which should be removed from store packaging, wrapped loosely in wax paper and covered in plastic wrap for proper airflow), milk, cream, yogurt, butter
- Other items: cured/cooked deli meat
The Bottom Shelf
The bottom shelf is the coldest area of your fridge, and the optimal area for the most temperature-sensitive foods. This includes:
- Raw pre-packaged meat and fish: observe the best-by date and keep these items in their original packaging to avoid any spillage and cross-contamination
- Fresh meat and fish from the butcher: follow food safety guidelines to ensure that your meat stays fresh (for example, steaks stay fresh for three to five days, chicken for one to two days, ground meat for one to two days, etc.)
- Safety note: cooked and uncooked meats should never be stored in the same drawer or shelf to prevent cross-contamination
The Crisper Drawer
The crisper drawer retains moisture and regulates oxygen, light and heat levels to keep vegetables and fruits fresh. You’ll want to store your vegetables and fruits separately, however, since fruits emit ethylene gas that can quicken the ripening process of everything around them. (An exception to this rule is strawberries, which should be stored with vegetables because they’re unaffected by ethylene gas and need the humidity to stay fresh.)
- Fresh vegetables: lettuce, spinach, mushrooms, carrots, celery, asparagus, brussel sprouts (avoid garlic, potatoes, onions and these other vegetables)
- Fresh fruits: berries, cherries, apples, grapes (avoid tomatoes, citrus fruits, bananas, mangoes and these other fruits)
Your fridge may come with its own shelves and drawers, but adding your own clear storage bins, lazy Susans and other organizational tools can help you take advantage of the space (especially if you’re sharing a fridge with other people). Grouping items together in a bin — such as yogurt, pudding and applesauce — can make it easy to form neat rows and columns that won’t be easily knocked around, and finding stackable racks can help you store cans of beer or sparkling water more efficiently. To keep your bins organized, you can label them the same way you’d label airtight containers in your pantry.