Having an organized fridge can make cooking SO much more enjoyable. But, the fridge is basically a “paid” storage container, so it’s good to be mindful of what belongs in here and what doesn’t.
What Belongs In the Fridge
The EASIEST way to think about if something belongs in the fridge is by asking yourself where it was stored in the grocery store. Follow these easy rules:
- If something is refrigerated in the store, refrigerate it at home.
- If something is not refrigerated in the store, it is most likely OK to keep out. For example, unrefrigerated produce in the store can be stored at room temp, and often times tastes best there (ie tomatoes, peaches, avocados, bananas, apples, etc).
- If it’s on a shelf in a “shelf stable” container, put it in the fridge ONLY after opening it (check label for “refrigerate after opening” statement).
- Refrigerate anything you prefer to consume cold (ie Beverages)
ALSO any leftovers, belong in the fridge too, stored in an airtight container.
A few exceptions:
- Nuts/Seeds: While they can do well in the pantry for short amounts of time, they retain the most freshness and health benefits when refrigerated.
- Butter: Salted butter, especially, is fine to keep out for about 2 weeks. The stick we are currently using goes in a butter dish in the cabinet next to the stove for easy access. All ‘reserve’ sticks go in the fridge.
Once you have cleared out what doesn’t belong in the refrigerator and added in what does, it’s time to organize!
Step 2: Group
Start by grouping alike items together and putting them in places that makes the most sense based on the refrigerator zones below.
The fridge door is best for smaller items and frequently used items. Although it is the “warmest” part of the fridge, this shouldn’t pose a problem for beverages unless the fridge is opened for long periods of time.
- Canned/Bottled: Salad dressings, sauces, condiments, nut butters. (‘Squeezable’ containers with thicker sauces–mustard, mayo, etc.– can be stores upside down for easier dispensing and maximized space).
- Beverages: Milk, juices, etc.
The drawers are a great place to store most fresh produce, and regulate humidity best when at least 2/3 full.
The ‘low’ and ‘high’ humidity settings on the drawers are designed to store items as follows:
- LOW humidity drawer (things that produce ethylene gas): apples, citrus, pears, stone fruits (peaches, plums, etc.) most thin-skinned fruits.
- HIGH humidity drawer (to prevent wilt and exposure to ethylene gas): Spinach, lettuce, greens, fresh herbs, squash, strawberries, broccoli, carrots, green beans, etc.
Since all refrigerators have at least 2 crisper drawers, you could set one to LOW humidity, and one to HIGH humidity, BUT I believe there is a more efficient way…
Since most find that they don’t have enough room for all of their produce…I usually store all ‘LOW’ humidity items on the countertop fruit basket. Most of these items are not refrigerated in the store anyways.
This way, you can set BOTH drawers to “HIGH” humidity to store all your greens & yummy veggies. These drawer dividers are a neat way to separate things within the drawers.
- deli meats, cheeses, (as the name suggests)
- kids snacks for easy accessibility
- random cooking ingredients like tomato paste or herbs in a tube, or minced garlic in a jar (because I refuse to chop garlic for everything).
Tip: Make sure cheeses are stored in a sealed container or bag to prevent your fridge smelling like parmesan.
Since the top shelf tends to have a bit more ‘headroom’, choosing taller items or a tall bin can be strategic here.
- Prepared sauces/condiments that don’t fit on the fridge door, (salsa, hummus, syrup, etc). Utilizing clear turntables will make these visible and accessible at all times.
- Leftovers or Prepared Foods:
- Breakfast Items: Create a designated grab-n-go area for all your morning necessities for easy access.
As the coldest part of the fridge, this is best for…
- Meats & Fish: In case anything leaks, it will save your lovely leftovers (and everything else) from contamination. I store these in a “thaw bin” which both eliminates messes and reminds me to pull meat out of the freezer for dinner.
- Dairy, Yogurt, Cottage Cheese, etc.
- Kids snack bin: If you aren’t storing kids snacks in the deli drawer, this may be a great place to keep a designated kids snack bin for them to easily access.
Step 3: Declutter
Similar to pantry organization…you’ll want to gather a few things for this step: a Garbage can, and a pen/paper.
After Step 2, you may have found 3 containers of ketchup that can be tossed or combined, or maybe some condiments that can be mistaken as a science experiment.
Combine & trash accordingly.
Make mental notes of things that your tossing often, and resolve to buy smaller or sealable containers.
For example, I used to buy cans of tomato paste from Costco, but realized I was using only small amounts at a time and the rest would mold away in the fridge. Instead I buy the tube of tomato paste that can be sealed up easily and has a long fridge life.
Unbox & Unbag
To keep things neat & tidy, keep things visible and accessible. This starts with getting rid of any extra packaging.
While unpacking groceries, I take produce out of the plastic produce bags (we reuse them for diaper disposal) and unbox anything with an outer shell or box (protein bars, yogurt, etc.).
This step also makes doing monthly inventory much easier.
Step 4: Clean
The best time to clean the fridge is right before grocery shopping–when it’s most bare. Choose this time based on your 3-step meal prep rhythm (for me, it’s usually Saturday morning).
Wipe down shelves and bins with disinfectant wipes or spray. Then, once/month, I remove everything from the fridge–shelves, bins and door bins– and wash them in warm soapy water. For max efficiency, I do my monthly kitchen inventory at the same time (for me, the 3rd Saturday of the month).
Step 5: Contain
To keep things neat & tidy, you’ll want to separate and contain the different categories of items that you’ve grouped together.
First, measure your fridge to make sure you buy bins that are as deep as your fridge and a good width to fit the other things on that shelf (this will depend on if you have a french door, side-by-side, etc.)
Mixing & matching these clear, stackable bins can really maximize space in your fridge!
Most standard fridge shelves are 14.5-inches deep (counter-depth fridge shelves will be smaller). I love these stackable bins for standard 14-inch deep fridge shelves:
Narrow bins: 14.5 x 4W x 4H (or 4X6 or 6×6)–1 row of items like canned items, condiments, drinks, etc. These also work well when stacked on top of wider bins.
10-inch wide: 14D x 10W x 5H
These would be the best bins for a counter-depth fridge, since they are only 10 inches deep instead of 14 inches.
Large bins: Good for a top shelf to maximize the height of the space–could store bagged lettuces, leftovers, etc.
Turntables: these work great for drinks, jars, sauces, or condiments that don’t fit on the fridge door. They really help things to not get lost in the back of the fridge!
Add a deodorizer: To keep your fridge fresh– open a box of baking soda and store it in the back of the fridge. Switch this out every few months!
Weekly Wipe down: As part of your weekly meal planning rhythm, plan a fridge clean-out time. Saturday morning is my time to clean out old things, and wipe down shelves….just in time to restock on Sundays!
Quarterly Deep Clean: Once every few months, it’s a good idea to completely empty the fridge, and wash bins & containers thoroughly. If possible, remove shelves & drawers to wash in warm soapy water or use a sponge followed by disinfectant wipes.
This is also a great time to reassess to see if your organizational system is working for you and rearrange accordingly (if not, revisit Step #5).
I’d love to hear about your other tools & tips you use to keep your fridge neat & tidy!