The refrigerator is the heart of a modern kitchen. It’s where we store many different foods in order to maintain their quality and freshness, prolong their shelf life and decrease the risk of foodborne illness. But have you ever considered the logic behind how you organize the items in your refrigerator?
Where you store certain foods and drinks can matter quite a bit, since various sections of a fridge experience temperature a little differently. (For the record, the temperature of your refrigerator should be set to 40°F or below. You can adjust it using the thermostat on the inside.) For example, the temperature of the fridge door shelves fluctuates due to frequent opening and closing. In contrast, the inner shelves of the fridge are best able to maintain a stable, cold temperature. And those crisper drawers we tend to forget about? They can have a low or high humidity level, which is an especially good feature for certain kinds of produce.
We spend a lot of money on the food that goes into a fridge’s storage units, and optimizing the organization of your fridge can help minimize food waste and help keep your food safe. But not every food should be stored in the same way. Let’s take a look at how best to store certain foods.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables tend to have the shortest shelf life of all the items in your refrigerator (some are in their prime for just one to three days!), so utilizing a crisper drawer is a good idea for these foods. A crisper drawer has a different humidity level than the rest of the fridge, which can optimize freshness for produce. Typically, if you have two crisper drawers, it’s best to set one to high humidity and one to low humidity, so that different types of produce can benefit from the appropriate setting. FYI: The low-humidity setting is for produce that ripens quickly (e.g. apples, pears and avocados) and the high-humidity setting is for produce that wilts easily (e.g. leafy greens and fresh herbs).
Dairy, if refrigerated properly, typically has a shelf-life of seven days to one month, depending on when the item was opened and the type of product. (See more details on the shelf life of specific dairy products here.) To be safe, check date labels (which are often an indication of quality, not safety) and monitor for any potential odor, flavor or appearance change that could indicate food is no longer safe to eat. When it comes to location in the fridge, dairy products need a stable, cold temperature to maintain freshness, so storing on an inner shelf, as opposed to within a door, is best for cow’s milk, cottage cheese, hard and soft cheeses and yogurt. Even though there is often a butter storage compartment on the door of the fridge, it’s better to store butter well inside the fridge with the rest of your dairy products.
Raw meats and poultry
Raw meats and poultry should be wrapped and placed on a plate or stored in a reusable, washable container to prevent any potential juices from contaminating other items in the fridge. These items should be place on the inner part of the bottom shelf: This ensures a stable temperature and minimizes any possible contamination of other foods. Fresh red meats last three to five days and fresh raw poultry lasts one to two days in the fridge before needing to be cooked or frozen.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires eggs produced in the United States to be sold and transported at 45°F or less. Once eggs have been refrigerated at any point in the production process, they must be kept refrigerated from that point forward. If eggs were to warm up, condensation would form on the shell, which would make it easier for bacteria to penetrate the egg. Thus, eggs require a stable, cold temperature and do best on the inner shelves of a fridge as opposed to inside the door. We suggest storing eggs on a top shelf since they are quite fragile. Fresh eggs in their shell can last three to five weeks. Hard-boiled eggs last one week.
Condiments and sauces
Condiments and sauces are typically safe in the door of the fridge and can handle a slightly fluctuating temperature thanks to preservatives that help prolong their shelf life. These items should last a few months, but it’s best periodically to check labels for best-by dates and signs of spoilage—like a change in smell, color or appearance.
Leftovers should be stored in an airtight container. They need a stable temperature, so the middle shelves of the fridge are your best bet. Depending on the items, leftovers typically should be eaten within three to four days.
What about the freezer?
The freezer should be set to a temperature of 0°F or colder. Frozen food generally has a much longer shelf life than refrigerated food, but its quality may begin to deteriorate after an extended period of time.
We spend a lot of money on the food that goes into our refrigerators, and we want to make sure we’re optimizing its quality, freshness and shelf life and preventing foodborne illness as much as possible. Knowing the right storage information for different types of foods will lend you confidence when it comes to stocking your fridge.