Cleaning out the refrigerator is a daunting task but one that must be completed periodically to ensure you have a sanitary place to store your food. The next time you clean out your fridge, consider the organisation. If things aren’t working so well, resist the urge to fit the shelves and drawers back into place and carry on as usual. Now is your chance to overhaul the space to make it safer and more efficient. The following details how to organise your fridge so that you’ll be able to cover every aspect of the job in full.
The basic principle of fridge organisation is to store foods based on their cooking temperatures. Items that are safe to eat as is, such as leftovers and prepared foods, can be housed on the top shelves. Then work downward so that the lowest shelves contain the foods that require the highest cooking temperatures, such as chicken. This organisational philosophy prevents cross contamination, as any food that does get contaminated must be cooked to a higher temperature.
Following this organising principle, you should not have too much trouble figuring out which foods go on upper versus lower shelves. The upper shelves are perfect for leftovers, drinks, and prepared foods, such as yogurt. Place more perishable items, including deli meats, cheese, eggs, and milk, on the bottom shelf where it is cooler. You should also reserve space on the lower shelves for raw ingredients that you’ll use in cooked dishes, such as pork chops. Remember to keep all expiration dates visible.
The refrigerator door is the warmest part of the appliance. It should be used exclusively for condiments that have natural preservatives, such as mayonnaise. Don’t ever store milk or eggs in the door, as it does not hold a temperature low enough to keep them safe. As butter and soft cheese don’t require the coldest temperatures, the door dairy compartment is an ideal spot for them. After you’ve opened soft cheese, such as goat cheese and Brie, store it in air-tight containers. As long as orange juice is pasteurised, you can also store it in the door. Keep fresh squeezed juice in the main part of the refrigerator.
It is most logical to use the drawers for vegetables and fruits, as they can be set to specific temperatures. However, as many drawers are at the bottom of the fridge, you still want to make sure that you have room for raw meat. If you have two stacked drawers, store meat in the lower one. If you have side-by-side drawers, the meat can go in either one. What do you do if you need both bottom drawers for produce? Purchase a container for raw meat that you can keep on the bottom shelf that will prevent contamination. Keep raw meat and fish sealed until you’re ready to use it to maximise freshness.
If you separate the fruit and vegetables, keep fruit in the low humidity drawer or crisper with the vent open, and vegetables in the high humidity drawer with the vent closed. This set-up is optimal, as many fruits let off a gas that speeds up rotting in vegetables. If you are going to store all of your produce in the same drawer, set the level to medium humidity with the vent half closed. What if you have an older refrigerator without humidity controls? You’ll achieve low or medium humidity by leaving a drawer slightly ajar.
Keep all produce in its original packaging or in loosely tied plastic bags. Don’t wash produce until you’re ready to use it, as this practice promotes mould, resulting in bacterial growth.
You should keep the refrigerator set at 5°C or below, as temperatures higher than 5° cause rapid bacterial growth. Regardless of where specific food items are stored, make sure that there is ample space between each item to allow for proper cooling. Avoid storing bread in the refrigerator at all costs, as refrigeration dries it out. You can freeze it for up to three months. When you’re ready to eat bread, don’t store it on top of the refrigerator, as the warmth can ruin it.
Are you getting overwhelmed thinking about everything that you need to do to organise your fridge? Start by prioritising areas of need and then tackle less important areas as you can. You don’t have to get the entire job done all at once. With the worst problems addressed, you’ll already have a much more organised space, making it easier to get to those smaller jobs.
Featured photo: Fridge 2 by Michelle Tribe 2007 | CC BY