I don't have the prettiest of refrigerators. It is old, white (more like cream at this point), noisy, and inconvenient — standard New York City rental fridge. I spend hours dreaming of having a kitchen with a spanking new, stainless steel, French-door version. Ice-maker, wine chiller, giant freezer and all . . . (Hey, at least I'm not asking for a built-in camera!)
Until such a time manifests though, the one thing that I do have is a pretty organized refrigerator. I mean, you could surprise me with a visit, walk straight up the fridge, open it — and not recoil in horror. In fact, you might even remark on how clean it is, how easily you can find the labeled leftovers, the condiments, and how tidily the herbs are stored.
The reason for all the effort I put into keeping my refrigerator organized is that I really can't cook in a kitchen that's less than spotless — countertop, stove, cutting board and all. That quest for tidiness has prompted me to pick up a few tips and tricks along the way. Not just for organizing my fridge but making everything in it last that much longer, and stay that much fresher. Here are some of them that have worked for me.
Make your fridge so fresh, so clean
1. Label everything
Says staff writer Kelly Vaughan, "Chefs swear by this trick — and after working in a restaurant, I do, too. No longer do you have to open a container, give it a sniff, and say to your roommate or partner, 'When did we have these mashed potatoes?' The label tells you everything you need to know."
2. Separate certain fruits and vegetables
Says market editor Jada Wong, "I learned from my mom at a young age to take fruits and vegetables out of any plastic wrapping or produce bags before putting them in the fridge or on the counter. It helps with proper airflow so fruit won't get too ripe before you can eat them, or worse, develop mold."
Plus, she points out, "I put most of my fruits and veggies in the crisper drawer or middle shelf of the fridge. It's key to actually eating them. And I say most because I leave 'hard' fruit out on the counter, like apples, pears, and nectarines. 'Soft' fruit like mangoes, plums, and berries go in the fridge.'
3. Make use of baskets and bins
Home52 editorial lead Arati Menon was fed up with parting ways with "condiments, chutneys, and spreads, teeny containers of takeaway sauces, and mason jars of pickled veggies" from a lack of fridge organization. She's probably the ultimate when it comes to keeping things clean, but losing track of items within the fridge was plaguing her, so she turned to a storage solution she'd employed time and again in other parts of her home, but hadn't thought of using in the fridge: bins. "If it's good for your pantry, it's probably good for the fridge," Arati says, "after all, the same principles apply: zone, label, stack, elevate. So, why stop at bins? Why not employ all pantry organizers — trays, baskets, Lazy Susans, even tiered shelf organizers?"
4. Treat soft herbs like a bouquet of flowers
If I could count the number of times I've bought fresh cilantro, and watched as its leaves went yellow and then brown! It's usually at that point that I jump in (I'm working on it!) and try desperately to save the handful that are still half-green. To avoid this, writer Lisa Kolb suggests treating soft, leafy herbs (like basil, cilantro, parsley, or tarragon) as if they were fresh-cut flowers in The Best Way to Store Fresh Herbs. Simply trim a small amount off the stems and place the bunch in a glass or Mason jar filled with water. Cover loosely with a piece of Bee's Wrap and store in the middle shelf of the fridge — they'll last for at least a week.
5. Give pantry products a new home
I'm going to let you in on something that took me by total surprise: There are a number of items that you currently store on the shelves of your pantry that would fare much much better in your refrigerator. I'm talking soy sauce, maple syrup, organic nut butters, soy and nut milks, and whole-grain and nut flours, just to name a few. The one that surprised me most? Yeast. Yes, yeast is actually best stored in a chilly environment, like the condiment shelf in your fridge, according to this Food52 Hotline thread. The reason for this is that yeast is easily destroyed upon exposure to light and heat. For longer-term storage, you can even keep yeast (in an airtight container) in your freezer, where it'll last for up to a few months.
6. Save all your deli containers
Assigning editor Rebecca Firkser packs all her leftovers "in quart, pint, or half-pint deli containers. Every size uses the same lid, they stack on top of each other neatly, and don't leak if they accidentally get knocked over — they're the only 'Tupperware' I own!" And if you're wondering how long to keep these handy storage containers, we've got you.
7. Let eggs and dairy chill out
For the longest time, I believed that dairy — milk, cream, eggs, and cheese should be stored on the inside door of the fridge. Turns out that's not the best idea. Products like these belong in a spot with a constant cold temperature, like the top shelf of your fridge, so they don't spoil. Storing them here also makes them easier to grab when you're rushing to put together breakfast before heading out the door.
8. Give your lemons and limes a drink of water to last longer
Contrary to common practice (even I'm guilty of this), the countertop is no place for your lemons and limes to live, according to food writer Valerio Farris. They'll last much longer — up to a month! — if you store them in your refrigerator, sealed in a bag or container that's filled with a little bit of water. The logic: Lemons and limes (and other citrus) are super porous, so they'll dry out more quickly when left out in the open air.
9. Meat and fish belong at the bottom
"Not only does storing meat, poultry, and fish at the bottom of the freezer keep them colder," says Kelly, "but it also prevents cross-contamination. Otherwise, if you store it on a top shelf and the package leaks, the meat drippings may fall onto raw produce, packages of butter, or anything else stored in your fridge, which can easily spread bacteria."
10. Store and arrange items according to what other items they go with
This might seem like a well-duh tip, but you'd be surprised how many people toss things into their fridge with wild abandon. The next time you're cleaning out your fridge (or stocking it with a fresh set of groceries), take a look at things that go together. I always keep my peanut butter and jelly, eggs and milk, and deli meats and cheeses all side by side for convenience. Think about your daily eating habits and find the pairings you reach for most often! The less time I spend hunting around my fridge and making things topple (and spill), the happier I am, so this makes complete sense.
11. Line shelves and drawers
We can all admit that our refrigerators have a tendency to get a little messy, right? Sometimes it's just too exhausting after a full night of cooking dinner and doing all the dishes to also wipe down the shelves in the fridge. Drips of opened drinks, drops of jam, crumbs from a poorly-wrapped pastry, they love to linger. The best (and easiest) way to combat this problem is to line the drawers and shelves with a heavy-duty, water-resistant liner that wipes up easily and can be removed for deep cleaning. One like this that has ridges is ideal because it will allow airflow above and below, preventing mold or mildew from any pooling liquids.
Jada does something similar, and uses "old sheet pans and baking trays that have warped or peeled as shelf liners instead of traditional plastic liners. They're much easier to pull out (almost like a drawer) and the raised edges help contain spills a lot better, too. They also come in handy when I'm prepping large meals and want to group certain ingredients together — this way, I can pull out everything I need at once without having to dig around."
12. Consider a Lazy Susan
Editorial lead Margaret Eby is a self-proclaimed "condiment maximalist," which means "that I both have at least three kinds of hot sauce at all times, and that they tend to get lost in the depths of my fridge if I'm not careful. After accidentally rebuying the same kind of mustard that I already had twice, I finally invested in a clear, small, turntable (or a 'Lazy Susan' but listen, Susan, I know you were framed) for my fridge. It means that I can keep all those little bottles and cans organized, and that I just need to give it a spin to see my whole collection."
13. Bonus tip: For untouched cakes, frosting acts as a seal
Many frosted cakes can be stored at room temperature, but there are a few exceptions: if it's hot and humid; or if the frosting is made using cream cheese. In both scenarios, you can store the unwrapped, frosted cake in the fridge for a few days, according to food blogger Stacie Billis. The frosting makes a seal that keeps the cake from drying out, so you won't need to wrap it in plastic wrap and ruin your beautiful icing work.