16 Simple Steps to Tame an Unruly Refrigerator

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An overstuffed, disorganized refrigerator wastes time, food and money. Find out how to tame this beast.

In the grand scheme of things, organizing your refrigerator might seem pretty small potatoes. But in fact, an organized fridge will save money and time while you are contributing to the planet’s health.

When your refrigerator is a jungle, you can’t see what’s in there. That means wasting money buying duplicates and letting good food go bad. A Johns Hopkins University study found that:

  • 31 to 40 percent of the American food supply is wasted, mostly by homes, restaurants and stores.
  • Fruits and vegetables are wasted most often because they are perishable and take up space.
  • Americans spend $161.6 billion a year on food that goes to waste.

Organizing your fridge lets you see what you’ve got, helping you cut grocery expenditures. Here are 16 ways to tame your refrigerator.

1. Install baskets or bins

Nantawan Sakdirachpaijit / Shutterstock.comNantawan Sakdirachpaijit / Shutterstock.com

Group like items — all cheeses or lunch meats, for example — neatly and efficiently in baskets or bins. Or try organizing the contents of your fridge in baskets — those with handles in front are especially convenient. This KatesPlaceDIY video shows how one woman organized her refrigerator using $5 worth of plastic bins from The Dollar Store.

2.  Set temperature and humidity correctly

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A safe fridge temperature is no warmer than 40 degrees. Set humidity and temperature separately for the crisper drawers, if your refrigerator allows it, and don’t mix fruits and vegetables in the same crisper. Michigan State University Extension says:

  • Use high humidity for vegetables and low humidity for fruit.
  • Leafy greens and green onions like it cool and humid.
  • Keep apples, pears, plums, cantaloupes and peaches separate from other fruits and vegetables, as they release a gas that hastens ripening.
  • Keep tomatoes, cucumbers and bananas outside the refrigerator.
  • Store potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions and dry garlic out of the crisper to reduce humidity. Or store them outside the refrigerator.
  • Wrapping cauliflower in damp paper towels (in a container or plastic bag) helps maintain the humidity it needs.

3. Rethink what you keep in the door

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If your fridge’s door has receptacles marked for eggs or dairy, ignore them. The temperature near the door fluctuates when the refrigerator is opened and closed, so most door shelves are not a good place for milk, eggs and other highly perishable foods. Use the door for:

  • Sauces
  • Dressings
  • Jams
  • Pickles
  • Soda
  • Wine and beer
  • Other less fragile foods.

The door area isn’t all warm, though. The bottom shelf of the door is a cold spot, Saveur magazine says. Other cold spots are the top shelf and the back of the middle shelf.

4. Consider circulation

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A too-crowded refrigerator reduces air circulation. That raises the temperature, which encourages spoilage.

5. Use a lazy Susan

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Store small stuff, such as jams, jars and bottles, on one of these round trays and spin it to bring what you want to the front. Lazy Susans let you make use of the back of a cupboard or refrigerator.

6. Use labels

Joe Belanger / Shutterstock.comJoe Belanger / Shutterstock.com

Make snacking and meal prep easy by labeling shelves, bins, baskets, baggies and food containers. Pick your favorite system — a few examples:

  • Freezer tape and a marking pen
  • A label maker
  • Peel-and-stick labels
  • Write directly on containers (or on the refrigerator) with dry-erase markers

Real Simple suggests the following:

Stick a magnetic organizer on the refrigerator door to hold pens and food labels so they’re easy to find when you’re marking and dating leftovers.

7. Add a photo to your shopping list

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Take a photo of the inside of your refrigerator before you head out grocery shopping. It’ll remind you of what you have and what you need, heading off waste from duplicate purchases.

8. Make cleaning a snap

Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock.comAndrey_Popov / Shutterstock.com

Here are a couple of tricks for keeping the refrigerator clean with little effort:

  • Line shelves with plastic wrap that you peel off and toss when it’s dirty.
  • Trim vinyl or plastic place mats to fit refrigerator shelves; use them as mats that can be easily pulled out and wiped off.

9. Store messy stuff down low

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It’s a lot easier to clean up a mess on one shelf than a mess that has seeped from the top to the bottom of your refrigerator. Put the potential messes on the bottom shelf. That includes meat and seafood.

10. Isolate raw meat

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Treat raw meat, poultry and eggs, and juices like they’re dangerous. FoodSafety.gov says:

Bacteria can spread inside your fridge if the juices of raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs drip onto ready-to-eat foods.

Meat juices or even the outside of packaging can contaminate other foods.

Put meat in a special drawer or on the bottom shelf to keep it colder and prevent it from dripping onto food on lower shelves. The kitchn says:

Improvise your own meat drawer by using a clear plastic bin that will catch any accidental drips and keep the meat safely away from everything else.

11. Wrap meat for freshness

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Wrap meat in freezer paper sealed with freezer tape to keep it fresher and prevent juices from escaping.

12. Store fresh herbs correctly

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You can get special gadgets and containers for storing fresh herbs. But why spend money when a little know-how will do:

  • Some fresh herbs — basil, parsley and cilantro — last longer outside the fridge. Trim the stem ends and keep them on the counter in a glass of water, like a bouquet of flowers. You can snip fresh sprigs as you need them.
  • Thyme, rosemary and chives do best when refrigerated. Don’t rinse herbs until just before using. Wrap them loosely in plastic wrap and keep them in a warmer area of the refrigerator — a compartment in the door, for example. Wrapping herbs tightly traps moisture, leading to wilting and mold.

13. Choose food storage containers carefully

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Use clear containers that let you see at a glance what’s inside. Buy them in sets so they’ll stack easily, reducing clutter and confusion.

14. Match the container to the use

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Choosing safe containers for food storage can be a confusing job. The FDA says one component of plastics used in many types of food containers — BPA (bisphenol-A) — is safe “for the currently approved uses in food containers and packaging.”

However, other critics say BPA can leach into food from containers. The Environmental Working Group says:

Plastics chemicals routinely migrate, or leach, into the food and water they contain. While the amount may be small, it has not been proven safe.

Some critics also say other components, including BPS (bisphenol-S), are suspected of causing health risks. Confused? Here are three simple rules:

  • Use nothing in a microwave that doesn’t say “microwave safe.”
  • To be absolutely sure, microwave — and perhaps even store — food in glass or ceramic containers only.
  • Don’t reuse — and absolutely don’t microwave — single-use plastic containers that food is sold in.

15. Corral unruly bottles and cans

Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock.comAndrey_Popov / Shutterstock.com

You’ll find clear plastic bins that organize and dispense pop cans and water bottles for less than $15 at Walmart and elsewhere. You can also find soda racks at a garage sale or resale shop. These are an efficient way to group bottles and cans, making them easy to grab. Save precious space by keeping just a few bottles and cans on ice, replenishing them as needed from the pantry.

16. Use efficient containers for liquids

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If you purchase bulk sizes of milk and juice, consider decanting the liquids into smaller, easy-pour vertical carafes or pitchers that use less refrigerator shelf space. Store the bigger containers in the back of the fridge or in a second refrigerator in the garage or basement.

Share the tips and tricks you use to organize your fridge. Post a comment below or at Money Talks News’ Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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