How to Take Charge of Your Unruly Refrigerator

The refrigerator…a beast of a machine, working around the clock to keep our foods fresh. It’s a shame that most of us take it for granted and throw away pounds of food every month that got lost in the mess.

One of the easiest ways to stop food waste and starting saving money is getting your fridge organized, clean and healthy and keeping it that way.

Organizing Your Refrigerator

What follows are 11 ultra-simple ideas–things you can do immediately and continue doing to keep your fridge in the best shape of its life:

  1. Keep the newest foods in the back. Act like the grocery store, and rotate your oldest items to the front of the fridge. This keeps them not only in your view, but also lets you know that the milk at the front needs to be used before the milk in the back.
  2. Keep the largest items in the back. Unless it’s something that you need to get to often, it makes sense to keep your largest items in the back of the fridge–they will still be easy to see through the sea of stuff in front of them and won’t get lost.
  3. Keep similar items together. Try to group things in whatever way makes the most sense to you. All snacks might go in one area, or you might divide items by meal (breakfast, lunch), etc. We tend to eat all things at all hours, so grouping by type is what happens in our fridge (meats, vegetables, fruits, dairy, etc.). This also makes it easier to create shopping lists by category.
  4. Eat the foods closest to spoilage…which are rarely the oldest items, since different things spoil at different rates. Take stock of your fridge and ask yourself: Which of the items in here will be inedible if I don’t eat them within 2-3 days? Then eat those…or face the consequences of tossing them later.
  5. Keep meats on the bottom shelf to avoid contamination. This is a common tip, but worth repeating, since meat wrap jobs often fail. Keep all raw meats and fish on the bottom shelf, and preferably wrapped in the original plastic bag you brought it home in (or paper if you shop at Whole Foods). If juices escape, they won’t ruin the rest of the food in the fridge.
  6. Clear containers, clear wrap. Stay away from aluminum wrap or opaque storage containers–they are nothing but a leftover nightmare, since they obstruct not only what’s inside, but also what’s behind them in the fridge.
  7. Use identical storage containers. My favorite storage containers are the kinds that feature lids with seals and 4-sided snaps. The specific brands and models go in and out of style often, but the functionality remains the same, and the nice thing is that the sets are usually designed to stack nearly on top of one another. They can also store sealed dry goods in the pantry (like grains and sugar), and as a result, we currently own about 50 of these.
  8. Once in a while, clean the shelves. It’s a big undertaking, but giving your refrigerator a refresh once in a while is a good idea, for looks and for health. Turn your refrigerator off, remove all of the items, and wash all the shelves, walls, and everything in between. Make sure to get it done as quickly as you can to avoid prematurely spoiling any of your food. (Tip: Eat your way through the fridge throughout the week, and clean just before you go shopping again.)
  9. Install baking soda and a thermometer. A “fridge pack” of baking soda, available at any local supermarket, will keep odors in the fridge to a minimum.  A thermometer, on the other hand, will verify that your unit is cooling properly and can alert you to a problem. (A few months ago, this was the first sign that our compressor failed.)
  10. Check the fridge before you shop. Buying duplicate or similar foods is not only frustrating, but costly. Always check the refrigerator thoroughly before you head out to the store to avoid over-buying and over-spending.
  11. Clean out spoiled foods often. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but spoiled leftovers and other groceries should be cleaned out as soon as possible to avoid spoiling foods nearby.

Surely, this is worth the effort. A cleaner, more organized refrigerator will encourage discipline in the rest of your kitchen, save your wallet when grocery shopping, and save you time and headache when dealing with your food.

Get started today!

(Photo credit)