I have a confession: Often when coming home from grocery shopping-arms overloaded with bags of fresh produce, condiments, snacks and drinks-I open the fridge and just kind of plunk the items anywhere there’s space. Sometimes I pile yogurt on top of hummus containers. Often I shove oranges in the same drawer as cucumbers and mushrooms. Every once in a while, I put that package of chicken breasts in a separate meat drawer rather than plopping it atop a carton of strawberries…and I feel like such an over-achiever.
But here’s the thing: I know why certain foods should be placed in specific areas of the refrigerator-and there’s a science behind it. Taking the time to organize your groceries while storing them in the fridge can help keep them from spoiling. I’m pledging to right my organizational wrongs once and for all. (If you’re in a real pinch, you might want to stick these foods in the freezer.)
The Principles of Proper Fridge Organization
Every refrigerator has different zones based on temperature, humidity and potential for cross-contamination with other foods. Knowing which foods keep best in each zone, shelf or drawer helps eliminate food waste because it keeps foods fresh for longer. It also makes meal planning easier than ever and helps you find the ingredients you’re searching for faster. Here’s our guide to each zone:
Here’s where to keep leftovers, packaged and grab-and-go snacks, beverages and dips. These items have a low risk for spoiling, so they’re safe to store at the top of the fridge, where the temperature tends to be higher-plus, conveniently, this tends to be where you’re most likely to grab anything at eye-level for a quick midnight snack. These shelves are “in sight, in mind,” so it’s a good idea to store foods you know you need to eat ASAP up here. (Here’s how long your leftovers really last.)
The temperature is the most consistent in the middle of your fridge, and it’s the perfect space to store foods that still need to be kept pretty cold but have a lower risk of spoiling. Eggs, deli meats, sour cream and soft cheeses belong here.
You may be tempted to keep that gallon of milk on the top shelf for easy access, but milk holds best near the bottom and back of the fridge, where it’s typically the coldest. This goes for other liquids and softer dairy items, too, like yogurt, half-and-half, Brie and cottage cheeses. And if you’re worried about forgetting those items tucked all the way in the back, stack them on a rotating organizer-a genius way to use a lazy Susan-to easily grab ingredients and check expiration dates.
Raw meats should go on the super cold, very bottom shelf in the fridge. That includes anything from chicken breasts and ribeye steaks to sides of salmon and pork tenderloins. In addition to keeping the meat cold, placing it on the bottom reduces the chance that it will drip onto any other food. (We like to stash meats in plastic bags or on plates to be extra safe.)
The drawers in your fridge aren’t only there to help you stay organized. They usually hold specific humidity levels geared toward preserving different types of foods. Let’s break down what belongs where in terms of humidity.
- High humidity: Veggies store best at higher humidity levels (just think about those grocery-store misters that somehow manage to spritz you every time you reach for a bundle of carrots). If your fridge doesn’t have a vegetable drawer labeled, look for the one without a vent (or close the vent yourself) to help keep moisture in for veggies like spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, green onion, carrots, leafy greens and Brussels sprouts.
- Low humidity: This drawer may be labeled “crisper” and may have air vents, and it is the best place to store fruits that break down easily and, therefore, keep better in drier climates. Store strawberries, pears, grapes, oranges, kiwi and raspberries in the low-humidity drawer. Or, if there’s no humidity control or air vent, keep the drawer cracked slightly to create more airflow.
This is the refrigerator’s warmest zone, and it’s made for storing items with higher levels of vinegar, salt and preservatives, which tend to have a naturally longer shelf (er…door) life. Basically, the door is made for condiments of all stripes. Those little built-in safety bars make it easy to wrangle bottles of salad dressing, ketchup, mustard, sesame oil, hot sauce and mayo. Other than spreads, the door is also a safe bet for beverages like beer, wine or juice.
Once you’ve got everything organized, your foods will last longer and, possibly more importantly, be easier to grab for whipping up busy weeknight dinners, awesome desserts, happy breakfasts and every little snack in between.