refrigerator2DEBRA CAFFREY

The new year is a great fresh start for most of us to get organized and think about ways we can streamline our lives to function more efficiently. I’m not a huge New Year’s Resolution kind of girl; rather, I have found that creating routine cleaning and organization goals for set periods (like writing down on my monthly schedule to dust the blinds and change the air filters) works best for me. For others, a pile-up of disorganized stuff or unattended household projects is a great motivator to get in gear!

Whatever your habits, the refrigerator may be a place on your to-do list of things in the home that may need a bit of a New Year’s makeover. The fridge often becomes a victimized vortex of all your perishable purchases instead of an appliance that should be efficient and useful. And even when we keep it clean, placing items and food in inappropriate spots in the fridge can lead to waste and rot. Ultimately, you want your refrigerator to work for you—a tool that not only keeps things fresh but also aids in your success with meal planning, cooking and saving money.

So let’s get it in good shape! Start by taking every single thing out of your fridge, tossing whatever it super expired and/or disgusting. Wipe down all shelving using warm water and bleach, including all the cracks and crevices where dust, spills and food particles have settled. Once everything is nice and clean, use these guidelines to replace and store your items efficiently to ensure that nothing goes to waste again!

The Door

The fridge door is a few degrees warmer than the interior cabin. It’s also subject to the most temperature instabilities due to how often it’s constantly being open and shut. Therefore, never store your highly perishable items here like eggs, milk or other dairy. Store condiments like salad dressing, marinades, jams, jellies, bottled water and even juices here.

Upper Shelves

The upper portion of your fridge has the most consistent temperature, but it’s warmer than the lower shelving. Therefore, you may still want to avoid putting highly perishables there like milk, other dairy, and uncooked meats. This is a good place for things that won’t spoil, like ready-to-eat food items, beverages, herbs and leftovers.

Lower Shelves

This is the best place for foods that are very susceptible to spoiling and harmful bacteria. You’ll want to keep your raw meats, seafood, eggs and dairy here. Remember to place a “catch” container underneath raw meat packages in case of leaks. Nothing is worse than finding out that raw chicken juice has spilled all over the rest of your items!
Deli/Meat Bin: This drawer exists for a reason—it is often one of the coldest spots in the unit, making it perfect for what it was meant for: deli meats, cheeses and bacon.

Crisper Drawers

It’s important to separate most fruits from veggies, as some fruits emit ethylene, a chemical that may wilt vegetables prematurely. The low-humidity bin is perfect for most fruits like apples, peaches, pears and avocados. The high-humidity drawer is better for your veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. Also, though you should wash your produce before using or eating, it’s important not to do this too soon, as extra moisture can cause these items to wilt and rot prematurely. Save the washing for right before use.

Some Other Guidelines

Besides item placement, it’s important not to overcrowd your fridge so that air flow is efficient. Remember that most shelving can be adjusted height-wise, so you can fit taller items in the appropriate spots even if you don’t think you can.

To be sure you are not wasting what you buy and store, it’s imperative to inventory your fridge regularly, perhaps even twice a day. This isn’t hard! Just take a glance in there every once in a while, making sure you move high-priority items that need to be eaten soon to the front. You can even choose to have a “need to eat soon” bin so that your family knows what needs to be eaten right away, like berries, yogurts, and other soon-to-expire food.

Lastly, when meal planning and making your list for the grocery store, inventory your fridge first! Do you have a half-used jar of hoisin sauce you don’t know what to do with? A bag of shredded red cabbage that still seems OK? Plan your meals around these items to ensure you are not wasting food and money. Your refrigerator should be like a living, breathing instrument in your home, not just a place to store and collect impulse buys. Make it work better and for you today!