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Photo: Nature Fresh Farm

How Professional Kitchens Organize the Fridge

When organizing the refrigerator, we like to use professional and restaurant kitchens as models, because they organize their fridges with food safety in mind. Their way of doing it is to organize based on the temperature the foods need to be cooked to.

Things that need no cooking to be safe to eat (like prepared foods or leftovers) are placed at the top, then everything else is organized downwards based on the temperature it needs to be cooked to, with the foods needing to be cooked to the highest temperature (like chicken) being at the bottom.

When organized this way, any cross-contamination that occurs won’t be a problem because the food that’s contaminated has to be cooked to a higher temperature than the food sitting above it that may have dripped down, according to The Kitchn.

The Principles of Proper Fridge Organization

Every refrigerator has different zones based on temperature, humidity and potential for cross-contamination with other foods. Knowing which foods keep best in each zone, shelf or drawer helps eliminate food waste because it keeps foods fresh for longer. It also makes meal planning easier than ever and helps you find the ingredients you’re searching for faster. Here’s our guide to each zone:

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Photo: Taste of Home

Upper Shelves

Here’s where to keep leftovers, packaged and grab-and-go snacks, beverages and dips. These items have a low risk for spoiling, so they’re safe to store at the top of the fridge, where the temperature tends to be higher-plus, conveniently, this tends to be where you’re most likely to grab anything at eye-level for a quick midnight snack. These shelves are “in sight, in mind,” so it’s a good idea to store foods you know you need to eat ASAP up here.

Middle Shelves

The temperature is the most consistent in the middle of your fridge, and it’s the perfect space to store foods that still need to be kept pretty cold but have a lower risk of spoiling. Eggs, deli meats, sour cream and soft cheeses belong here.

Lower Shelves

You may be tempted to keep that gallon of milk on the top shelf for easy access, but milk holds best near the bottom and back of the fridge, where it’s typically the coldest. This goes for other liquids and softer dairy items, too, like yogurt, half-and-half, Brie and cottage cheeses. And if you’re worried about forgetting those items tucked all the way in the back, stack them on a rotating organizer-a genius way to use a lazy Susan-to easily grab ingredients and check expiration dates.

Raw meats should go on the super cold, very bottom shelf in the fridge. That includes anything from chicken breasts and ribeye steaks to sides of salmon and pork tenderloins. In addition to keeping the meat cold, placing it on the bottom reduces the chance that it will drip onto any other food. (We like to stash meats in plastic bags or on plates to be extra safe.)

Drawers

The drawers in your fridge aren’t only there to help you stay organized. They usually hold specific humidity levels geared toward preserving different types of foods. Let’s break down what belongs where in terms of humidity.

  • High humidity: Veggies store best at higher humidity levels (just think about those grocery-store misters that somehow manage to spritz you every time you reach for a bundle of carrots). If your fridge doesn’t have a vegetable drawer labeled, look for the one without a vent (or close the vent yourself) to help keep moisture in for veggies like spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, green onion, carrots, leafy greens and Brussels sprouts.
  • Low humidity: This drawer may be labeled “crisper” and may have air vents, and it is the best place to store fruits that break down easily and, therefore, keep better in drier climates. Store strawberries, pears, grapes, oranges, kiwi and raspberries in the low-humidity drawer. Or, if there’s no humidity control or air vent, keep the drawer cracked slightly to create more airflow.

Door

This is the refrigerator’s warmest zone, and it’s made for storing items with higher levels of vinegar, salt and preservatives, which tend to have a naturally longer shelf (er…door) life. Basically, the door is made for condiments of all stripes. Those little built-in safety bars make it easy to wrangle bottles of salad dressing, ketchup, mustard, sesame oil, hot sauce and mayo. Other than spreads, the door is also a safe bet for beverages like beer, wine or juice, as cited by Taste of Home.

Don’t get discouraged.

Generally, not stressing is... not my forte. But when it comes to organizing and maintaining the order of what is essentially just a very cold closet, try not to stress yourself out too much. Wasting food is a huge bummer, and it’s frustrating to lose a head of fennel in the black hole that is a messy fridge, but some days are going to be better than others. There’s always tomorrow to clean out the fridge, write a new list, and try again.

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