How often do you think about the way you organize your food in the refrigerator? As a busy mom, I’m sure it doesn’t really cross your mind that often. In fact, I’ll bet the only time you care about how you store food in the fridge is when you start loading it up after shopping.
It’s okay if that’s the only time you think about it because it’s actually the best time to organize your refrigerator. Why? This is the one time you’re actually shuffling things around to make room for the food you just picked up at the grocery store. Think about this, if you shop weekly, your refrigerator will be constantly organized.
Before we start, I do want to mention I will not be discussing anything with regards to using lazy susans, bins from expensive stores or anything else to make your refrigerator pretty. Honestly, I think that’s a waste of your money and a waste of your time.
The most efficient way to keep your refrigerator organized is by ensuring
- All the food is fresh.
- All the food is in date.
- Leftovers are tossed in the trash where they belong.
- Perishables stay away from the refrigerator doors.
- Keep raw meat and produce stored separately.
Sure, I may be unconventional in my thinking about how to organize your refrigerator, but let’s get real here. If setting up a system using lazy susans and bins will bring you joy, then go for it. I will tell you this. The excitement will soon vanish and you’ll revert back to your old ways.
As for the lazy susan; she’ll be buried away under a pile of other organizational tools you wasted your money on. She’ll be spending the rest of her days in a broken-down box sitting in the garage.
Step one – Say adiós to your leftovers
It’s time to take stock of the leftovers and bid them a final farewell. If you happen to find a plastic container at the back of the fridge, and it looks like you’re afraid to lift the lid. Do yourself a favor; throw it out, container and all.
Look at it this way. It’s one less plastic container you don’t really need. The only thing those containers are doing is taking up valuable space, causing you more work every time you open the cupboard to grab one.
How many times have you reached for a container and all the lids came crashing down on you, bopping you in the head before hitting and sliding all over the kitchen floor?
You don’t need that many. Throw them out, and let’s get on with organizing your refrigerator.
Step two – Put your groceries away
I know sometimes you may have gotten a really great deal on your groceries. Maybe you even scored so big using coupons you want to take pictures to post your haul on Instagram. If you’re planning on doing that, please be quick about it. The longer your meats sit on the counter, the quicker the meat juice is going to drip all over everything, potentially causing cross-contamination.
Speaking of cross-contamination
Always keep your raw foods separated from your fruits and vegetables. The best place to put the meat before you put them away is in the kitchen sink. Now, if your sink is filled with dishes, you’ll have to go to backup plan number 1.
There’s nothing worse than icky drippy meat juice, contaminating the other food in your refrigerator.
Enter back-up plan number 1
If you were fortunate enough to have a considerate bagger at the grocery store who put all of your meats in the same plastic bag, it’s okay for you to leave it on the counter. Just make sure you keep them away from the fruits and vegetables. Remember, raw meat and fresh produce are arch-rivals until they’re cooked.
If your bagger wasn’t considerate (odds are they weren’t) and put your meat and tomatoes in the same bag, quickly separate the two items and put them on separate corners on the counter.
Back up plan number 2
If you don’t believe in using the plastic bags the stores give and you like to bring your own bags. Place all the meat on a large enough dinner plate to keep the juices from flowing all over the counter.
Superhero tip: Always wash off the dish that just held the meat with hot soapy water, regardless if there was meat juice on it or not.
While we’re on the subject of this, if you’re using reusable bags to carry meat home, please designate only one bag for meat.
Step three – Where to put it all
Aren’t those little egg cups adorable? They’re super cute but if yours are built into the side door of your refrigerator don’t’ use them. Instead use the cups to hold your little bags of soy-sauce, ketchup and all the other condiments you get from the fast-food. Whatever you do, don’t store your eggs in them. They’re bad news.
The best way to store your eggs is in the carton. There’s a slight possibility, some of the eggshells can harbor a small number of bacteria on them. This means even the smallest number of bacteria living on the outer shell of the eggs can cross-contaminate the other contents of the refrigerator.
Never store eggs in the refrigerator door. Due to the door being opened and closed constantly, it tends to be the warmest part of the refrigerator.
You’ll want to put your frozen food immediately in the freezer. While packing your freezer, always keep an inch distance between the air vents and your food. The location of air vents will vary amongst the type of refrigerator/freezer unit you own. Find the location and limit the amount of food you have blocking the air vent. The air needs to be able to flow freely throughout the freezer to ensure everything is frozen at the same temperature.
If you’re planning on using the frozen food for your evening meal, place it on a plate and keep it in the refrigerator to thaw. Don’t leave it on the counter. If you’re in a rush to use it, submerge the package in a clean sink filled with cool water. To read more about defrosting food quickly, you may want to read The Safest and Best Way To Defrost Meat.
The side doors of the freezer are an ideal place to keep your ice packs, bread, ice cream, and frozen vegetables. I would not recommend you put any meat in the side doors. Like the refrigerator, the doors are the warmest areas due to constantly being opened and being exposed to the internal temperature of your house.
Bonus Tips for refrigerator organization
Open cans should be taboo
Never keep an open can in the refrigerator. If you have leftover canned peaches, put them in one of those food-grade plastic containers you have laying around. Just a warning – cover your head before opening the cupboard.
Oops, I forgot to put it back in the refrigerator
If you accidentally left an open item, package, bottle or container that requires refrigeration out for more than 4 hours; THROW IT OUT! I used to do this all the time with steak sauce. For some strange reason, I’d forget to put it back in the fridge before cleaning the dinner dishes. Let’s just stay, buying some A-1 steak sauce stock would have been a pretty wise investment.
Check your labels
One of the most important tips I can leave you with today is to always write the expiration dates on all the items you purchase before putting them away in the refrigerator or freezer.
Always check the labels on your food and follow the manufactures instructions. If it states refrigerate after opening, get out your black permanent marker and write that on the outside of the bottle or jar.
By putting the expiration dates on everything, you’ll be able to see what foods you need to use up before they spoil. I advise you to use a black permanent marker.
If your bottle or jar states, once open discard after 10 days, write the date you opened it, or the day you need to toss it. If you want to be super safe, put both dates on the bottle or jar.
If you don’t want to write all over your bottles and jars, you’ll want to purchase some reasonably priced printable stickers. You can find some in my Etsy shop.
The premise of an organized refrigerator
An organized refrigerator isn’t meant to be pretty enough to have some photographers from some fancy online magazine come and take pictures of it.
An organized refrigerator is one where certain types of foods should be placed in different locations of the refrigerator.
- Ready to eat foods should remain on the top 2 shelves.
- Raw meat and fish on the bottom shelf (sitting on a plate to catch the juice).
- Fresh produce in the produce bins.
The bottom line is. Food safety should be the number one organizational tool in your arsenal. Not fancy bins with pretty labels.
If you missed part one of this food safety topic, you may want to read the most important grocery shopping tips you’ll ever need for food safety.
What food safety precautions do you take when it comes to organizing your refrigerator? Share in a comment below.
Until we meet again