When it comes to refrigerator organization, there are a few types of people in this world. Those whose entire iceboxes consist of a bottle of wine, a stray onion, and Postmates leftovers, and those whose shelves are so tightly packed it’s near impossible to spot the mayo jar that expired in 2009. There’s also the elusive third type, the folks who somehow have a fridge so neatly organized it belongs in a museum.
Now is the time to try to become a little more like the latter. Under stay-at-home orders, grocery runs are becoming rarer (and, by default, much larger). This means coming home with a dozen bags instead of three, which begs the question: Where do you put it all? How do you store everything and, most important, how do you keep food from spoiling? We asked a chef, a pro organizer, and a nutritionist how they arrange their fridge to minimize waste. Follow their wisdom and you’ll be one step closer to creating a social media account for your own Frigidaire.
Take Stock of What You Have
“I try to declutter before I get the groceries,” says Ali Cayne, founder of Haven’s Kitchen. “I consolidate lettuces, roast off wilting carrots, shake the milk to see what I have left, and look into the egg cartons.” Nutritionist Amy Shapiro also reviews and discards anything she’ll probably never use to save space, while pro organizer Shira Gill takes time to wipe down sticky surfaces.
Handle With Precaution
“Because of the virus, I’ve been recycling bags immediately and washing my hands,” says Gill. She lays out all of her items on clean countertops and sorts them into broad categories: frozen goods, fruits and veggies, dairy, etc. Cayne follows a similar method and unpacks frozen foods first, followed by refrigerated products, then finishes with the pantry.
Find a Place for Everything (and Keep It Consistent)
Just like in a professional kitchen, it’s important to have a clear place for all products. “When you store items in broad categories by type, it’s easy to find what you need within seconds,” says Gill. “You can take a quick inventory of what you already have before you head to the store, which prevents overbuying and food waste.” Cayne likes to round up categories of items with caddies from the Container Store that keep things organized and hold items like sauce pouches upright.
Understand the Reason Behind Your Method
Some areas, like crispers and deli drawers, are self-evident, but the experts have a few additional pointers. “I keep any meat or animal protein in the lowest area in case it drips,” says Shapiro. “That way, it’s less likely to contaminate other foods.” Cayne’s top shelf is breakfast themed: “That’s where I keep bread, eggs, and my eye patches, because I love the way they feel while I have my morning coffee.” Shapiro reserves that area for condiments like cream cheese, jams, jellies, and pesto, while her door holds butter, nuts, and seeds. “This area tends to not stay as cold, so I try not to keep perishable items there. It allows my food to stay at safe temperatures,” she explains.
Have a Designated Perishables Area
Shapiro stores items that will spoil quickly, like leftovers, hummus, and yogurt, at eye level. Having all perishables in direct sight means you don’t have to go digging around for foods that might go bad. She also likes to keep a running tab of recipes and group ingredients together in the fridge.
Follow This Strategy So Nothing Goes Bad
All three women touted the importance of the FIFO (first in, first out) method. “I practice what we were taught to do in cooking school,” says Cayne. “I make sure to bring the older foods forward or put them on top so that I use them first.” That means the newer yogurt tub will go behind the older one, and the newer egg carton will sit underneath the one you already have.
Don’t Keep Things in Their Grocery Store Containers
Certain food prep will not only help cut down cooking time, but it will also make your produce last longer. “I try to wash my greens and wrap them in damp paper towels,” says Cayne. She also keeps her herbs in water-filled jars. Shapiro likes to clean and cut her fruits and vegetables up front to keep for grab-and-go snacks, which she places front and center: “I rinse grapes and leave them in a bowl; I cut up veggies so they are ready for snacking; and I always whip up a dip to make them all seem more enticing.”
Label Everything in Your Freezer
Your freezer should also be zoned by type. “I store treats on the top,” says Shapiro. “Out of sight, out of mind.” The drawers are reserved for frozen fruits, veggies, and seafood, while the bottom shelf holds bread and meats. Her doors are stocked with ice packs for bruises, bananas for baking, and baked goods.
All three experts note the importance of labeling items with masking tape and a wine pen or erasable chalk pen. “I write the name of the item and the date that it was frozen,” says Shapiro. “From there, I know I have three to six months to consume it without it going bad or tasting like freezer burn.”
Have a Plan for What’s About to Go Bad
Shapiro likes to make soups, veggie roasts, or salads with fresh produce that’s about to expire. For dairy that’s about to turn, she’ll blend a smoothie. But Gill knows that the easiest way to keep things from spoiling is to buy fewer items up front. “Even in the midst of a global pandemic, I still believe in buying fewer, better things and supporting small businesses whenever possible,” she says. “We’ve been ordering produce from a CSA, which supports local farmers, and we’re having meat delivered from our local butcher instead of shopping at big chains.”
You may not be able to save every single item from ending up in the bin, but at the very least, you’ll spot those mushy mushrooms more easily so you can salvage them in your weeknight pasta.
Try these expert-approved storage solutions: