How to: Professional Tips & Tricks to Organizing Your Fridge

I’ve been wanting to do an organizational post about my fridge and pantry for a LONG time now…but for some reason, I have been afraid. I think it is because I feel like showing my usually cluttered, dirty fridge is embarrassing…especially because I know better, being a nutritionist. I’ve taken numerous classes on proper food storage and prep for optimal and healthy use.

Also, any time I watch home shows and the inside of the fridge is shown, it is immaculate and perfectly organized. At the same time, all I can think is, ‘do they really need that many Fiji waters and Redbulls?’ And ‘who really drinks Pelligrino?’ AND ‘where are all of the mismatched cool whip containers full of leftovers?’

So, time to get down to the nitty-gritty of proper food storage in a refrigerator. Bear in mind that the knowledge I have came from college courses I have taken in the past. All of these classes were related to commercial food storage, but because the USDA is strict with proper food packaging, storage, and service; it is safe to say that if you follow the commercial food storage rules, you will be better off in your house.

When I was growing up, my mom had a good friend who, every year, would prepare her turkey the exact same way for Thanksgiving. She would swear by her method and would tell anyone just how juicy her turkey was. She would take her still completely frozen turkey out of the freezer on Thanksgiving morning and place it in her oven at 275°F to cook for the whole day. Needless to say, this friend of my mom’s could never figure out why she and her family would end up with a stomach bug after every Thanksgiving. This is called a foodborne illness…

Any type of digestive illness that lasts for 24-48 hours is due to foodborne illness and is not, in fact, a 24-hour flu bug…ask any medical professional and they will tell you, there is no such thing as a 24-hour flu bug. According to Frank D. Conforti, who is the author of Food Selection and Preparation: A Laboratory Manual, foodborne illness is transmitted from food to people. Contamination can occur in various ways, improperly preparing or cooking food, cross-contamination (such as using the same cutting board for cutting up vegetables as for raw meat), an individual who is already infected that prepares the food, an individual that has a foodborne illness and doesn’t properly wash their hands, or improper food storing. Foods that are easily affected by foodborne illnesses are the following:

  1. Milk and milk products
  2. Sliced melon
  3. Untreated garlic-and-oil mixtures
  4. Beef, pork, and lamb
  5. Poultry
  6. Shellfish and crustaceans
  7. Fish
  8. Raw sprouts and sprout seeds
  9. Baked potatoes
  10. Eggs (Except those treated to eliminate Salmonella spp.)
  11. Tofu or other soy-protein foods
  12. Cooked rice, beans, and vegetables

In general, the danger zone for food that needs to be refrigerated is being left between 41°F [5°C] to 135°F [57°C] for more than two hours. So leaving frozen chicken breasts on your counter to thaw throughout the day…NOT a good idea. For optimal food storage, the fridge should be no higher than 40°F and no lower than 34°F. The freezer should be no higher than 0°F.

This…is my dirty fridge. I am ashamed to say, it has been several months since I did a thorough cleaning of it. While I, luckily, did not find anything unwanted growing when I cleaned it out…I did throw out a ton of things that had expired. I am terrible with salad dressings. We do eat a lot of salad, but I usually make a quick vinaigrette for the salad and we don’t eat a lot of premade dressing…so, it expires and sits in the fridge.

I also have the added benefit of having a fridge in my garage, so it isn’t nearly as packed as it could be. That being said, there are several rules of thumb I have learned over the years being a nutritionist…

  1. Meat should be stored on the bottom shelf, especially if it is uncooked. This is to keep cross-contamination to a minimum if the meat has juices that leak.
  2. Fruits and vegetables are best when stored separately. The fruit keeps best in a low humidity area and vegetables tend to be the opposite. So a drawer for fruits and a separate drawer for vegetables will keep them at optimal temp, moisture level, and prolong the storage time.
  3. The top shelf of the fridge, as well as the doors, tend to be the warmest. Storing items in those areas need to be monitored to ensure proper temperature storage. Also, due to this, eggs should not be stored in the door. I know, I know…a lot of refrigerators have special egg storage in their doors…unless you go through eggs quickly in your house, they need to be stored in one of the middle shelves inside the fridge.
  4. Deli items, such as lunchmeat, cured bacon, cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, butter, can all be stored together in a drawer. Uncured bacon should be treated as raw meat. Most bacon is cured, and can actually be eaten before cooking (I wouldn’t recommend it due to flavor and chewiness), but because it has already been smoked or cured, it does not cause a foodborne illness threat to the other deli products.

As for types of storage, cool whip and country crock butter containers are just great.

Equally, fancy Tupperware or OXO or Snaplid containers are perfect as well. The key is to label the container, not necessarily with what is inside (although that is super helpful if the container is a cool whip or country crock container), but with the date, it was placed in the fridge. In general, foods last only 4-5 days in the fridge before they begin to go bad and grow contaminants. You may not be able to yet see the mold growing on the fruit salad, but that doesn’t mean that the spores haven’t begun to develop.

Now that I’ve thoroughly scared y’all over foodborne illnesses and how to prevent them with proper food storage, knowing how to keep your refrigerator organized and clean is just as important.

One of the easiest ways to keep spills contained and lessen the possibility of cross-contamination is to place mats on every flat surface inside the fridge. For a while, I used parchment paper. It is easy, cheap, and works really well. Parchment paper can be found in the same area as cling wrap or foil wrap in most stores. Sometimes it is found in the baking section. It is baking paper that is not absorbent and food doesn’t stick to it.

Before long, I grew tired of throwing away parchment paper every time I had to clean out the fridge. Not only was it tedious to have to remeasure and cut the parchment for every shelf, but it is not great for the environment to continually throw out. To top it off, while parchment paper is very inexpensive to use sometimes, using it quite often causes the cost per use to increase. I decided to invest in some plastic non-slip pads for my shelves. The ones I have are from Amazon, and they come in several different colors. These particular ones are perfect to trim to the proper size as well. In the end, I purchased 2-8 pack turquoise liners. This ensured me the ability to have enough for every shelf, drawer, and compartment in each door.

Another way I keep the inside of my fridge organized and easily accessible was to invest in clear, plastic kitchen storage bins. I too found the perfect ones on Amazon. While I have purchased larger clear bins for my fridge in the past (the large one that is on the top shelf), I wanted some skinnier ones that could easily fit side-by-side. I have one that is full of salad dressings, salsa, guacamole, etc. and another one that is full of other miscellaneous things such as jams/jellies, A1 Steak Sauce, buffalo sauce. Another one holds the Greek yogurt and the last one is in the deli drawer full of individually packaged cheese. I’ve also used them to hold lemons, I use one sometimes for any prepackaged, uncooked meats so if any juices leak, the contamination is minimal.

Two other fun finds that have amp’ed up my fridge organization are the condiment holder and the egg storage drawer. While these two things are even less necessary than anything I’ve previously mentioned, it has given me more room and organization.

The egg drawer holds 18 eggs safely and keeps them in the most optimal spot temperature-wise in the fridge. Honestly though, of all of the storage items I have for my fridge, my favorite is the egg storage drawer. It is adjustable for any shelf depth and locks in place once it is installed. The drawer part moves in and out and can be easily cleaned.

Do you have any tips or tricks that help keep your refrigerator organized? Or any must-have storage items that work well for inside the fridge? Hope y’all have an amazing week!

All knowledge and information for proper food storage in the refrigerator was taken from the USDA website and the book Food Selection and Preparation: A Laboratory Manual written by Frank D. Conforti.

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