Kitchen Hacks

9 Storage Hacks for a Supremely Organized Refrigerator

Plus, fresher, longer-lasting food.

May 14, 2019

I can't cook in a dirty kitchen. Seriously. Unless the countertop is clear, the stove is spotless, and my refrigerator is neatly organized, I can't so much as whip out the cutting board to get started on preparing a meal. Thankfully, I've gotten pretty good at maintaining a clean kitchen workspace (the fact that it's of the tiny, New York City variety doesn't hurt), so you won't find me scrubbing the sink every night before dinner.

Still, there's one thing that (understandably) requires a bit more attention every now and then: the fridge. Mine houses a constant rotation of dairy, fresh produce and meat, old leftovers, and condiments of varying ages I often forget I even have—all of which can become, well, less than appetizing if left unattended. Luckily, my tendencies towards hyper tidiness have led me to pick up a few handy storage hacks for making everything in my fridge last longer and stay organized.


Make Your Fridge So Fresh, So Clean

1. Label everything. This may be a tried-and-true organization tool for some, but if you're not already doing it, a roll of blue painter's tape and a sharpie can transform the way you cook—I picked this one up from Food52-er Mark Denner on this Hotline thread. Whether you're packing up leftovers in a food storage container, tossing cut veggies in a zip-top bag, or wrapping a wedge of cheese in wax paper, write the name of the item and the date it was prepared on the tape and stick it on there. You'll know what's been in the fridge longest, and therefore which items you should prioritize using up first, and what you do (and don't) need to buy the next time you make a trip to the store.

2. Separate certain fruits and vegetables. The majority of your vegetables can be stored in perforated plastic bags and kept in your fridge's crisper drawer, according to former Food52 managing editor Brette Warshaw in Smart Storage. But you'll want to keep them away (like in a bowl on your fridge's shelf) from ethylene-producing fruits, which will make your other veggies decompose faster. These include: apples, stone fruits, mangoes, passion fruit, pears, and kiwis.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Paper bag is better to keep mushrooms. Not plastic!”
— Dorothycbryant
Comment

Fruits and veggies that are particularly sensitive to ethylene include broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, eggplant, and avocados. But on the flip side, you can harness the power of that ethylene to ripen something—like a hard-as-a-rock avocado—more quickly. For something like mushrooms, the Kitchn recommends you keep the grocery store variety in its original packaging in the fridge; once you open them, wrap the whole package in plastic wrap for optimal freshness.

3. Treat soft herbs like a bouquet of flowers. We've all been there: You store a beautiful bunch of fresh basil in the fridge, and before you know it, it's turned soggy and brown. To avoid this, former Food52 writer Lisa Kolb suggests treating soft, leafy herbs (like basil, cilantro, parsley, or tarragon) as if they were fresh-cut flowers in The Best Way to Store Fresh Herbs. Simply trim a small amount off the stems and place the bunch in a glass or Mason jar filled with water. Cover loosely with a plastic bag and store in the middle shelf of the fridge—they'll last for at least a week.

4. Make pantry products last longer. There are plenty of things you probably didn't realize you can and should keep in your fridge—you'll probably find a few of them in your pantry cabinet. I'm talking soy sauce, maple syrup, organic nut butters, soy and nut milks, and whole-grain and nut flours, just to name a few. The one that surprised me most? Yeast. Yes, yeast is actually best stored in a chilly environment, like the condiment shelf in your fridge, according to this Food52 Hotline thread. That's because if it gets exposed to light and heat, it's easily killed. For longer-term storage, you can even keep yeast (in an airtight container) in your freezer, where it'll last for a few months.

5. Keep eggs and dairy chilled out. Some refrigerators entice you to store your eggs and dairy products, like milk, cream, and yogurt, on the inside of the door—but you shouldn't, says Warshaw. Products like these belong in a spot with a constant cold temperature, like the top shelf of your fridge, so they don't spoil. Storing them here also makes them easier to grab when you're rushing to make breakfast in the morning.

6. Make your lemons and limes last longer. Contrary to common practice (even I'm guilty of this), lemons and limes shouldn't be left out on your countertop, according to former Food52 staff writer Valerio Farris. They'll last much longer—up to a month!—if you store them in your refrigerator, sealed in a plastic bag that's filled with a little bit of water. The logic: Lemons and limes (and other citrus) are super porous, so they'll dry out more quickly when left out in the open air.

7. Meat and fish belong at the bottom. The bottom drawer is typically the coldest part of the fridge, so this is where you should keep any uncooked meat or fish products, explains Warshaw. You can remove the original packaging and wrap them in foil to extend the shelf life slightly, but typically, you should use them up within four days of purchase.

8. Arrange items according to what you use together. This might seem like a well-duh tip, but you'd be surprised how many people toss things into their fridge with wild abandon. The next time you're cleaning out your fridge (or stocking it with a fresh set of groceries), take a look at things that go together. I always keep my peanut butter and jelly, eggs and milk, and deli meats and cheeses all side by side for convenience. Think about your daily eating habits and find the pairings you reach for most often!

9. Bonus tip: For untouched cakes, frosting acts as a seal. Many frosted cakes can be stored at room temperature, but there are a few exceptions: if it's hot and humid; or if the frosting is made using cream cheese. In both scenarios, you can store the unwrapped, frosted cake in the fridge for a few days, according to food blogger Stacie Billis. The frosting makes a seal that keeps the cake from drying out, so you won't need to wrap it in plastic wrap and ruin your beautiful icing work.


More Kitchen Tips & Tricks

What are your best tips for a supremely organized fridge? Tell us in the comments below!
Tags:

Join the Conversation

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Alicia
    Alicia
  • Paula
    Paula
  • Christine Allard
    Christine Allard
  • Brownie
    Brownie
  • Jess
    Jess
Comment
Erin Alexander is the Assistant Editor of Partner Content at Food52, covering pop culture, travel, foods of the internet, and all things #sponsored. Formerly at Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Us Weekly, and Hearst, she currently lives in New York City.

52 Comments

Alicia June 4, 2019
Please stop all the plastic wrap and plastic bag recommendations! Care for our planet first.
 
Paula June 3, 2019
Great information! I already use quite a bit of these tips but an additional tip to prolong the life of produce, greens, fruits, etc. is Blue Apple - which you place in your produce drawer - each Blue Apple has an insert that absorbs ethylene gas - retarding the rate at which your tender greens, produce and fruits go from edible to inedible. The insert is replaced every 3 months. The Blue Apples had made a big difference in my fridge.
 
Christine A. June 3, 2019
Hiya,
One exception to the herbs-in-water-in-fridge: Basil. If you put it in your fridge, the cold will shock the greens and make they grey and wilty and gross, according to first-hand experience and the wonderful Jill Lightner (author of Scraps, Peels, and Stems). Still trim and keep in water; changing the water and re-trimming every few days will keep 'em fresh and happy for longer. If your kitchen gets hot -- like 80 degrees F -- keep them out of direct sunlight, too.
 
Brownie June 2, 2019
Stop attacking the plastic and food 52. Until the world changes the distribution of plastic it’s a fact of life. I don’t like it but I do like the article. If you bought the food in plastic thus you have plastic on your hands. Then it’s your choice how to handle.
 
Rosalind P. June 2, 2019
You are right about plastic being a fact of life and we all need to be reminded of that, so thank you for that. And it's equally important to be reminded that we all have a role to play in addressing and solving the problem. It is as you say our choice to handle it but because Food 52 is such an outstanding site and usually has such a great approach to everything it tackles, it is, as they say now, an "influencer". If they have a voice, all of us admirers are asking that they use that voice to help.
 
Jess June 2, 2019
Love the site, great recipes, items for sale, etc... so I was super disappointed to read how much plastic you suggest I use to organize my fridge. Please don’t sell earth-friendly items and suggest a more conscious way of living in one article and contradict yourself in the next. Walk the walk. I’m inclined to support companies that live by their word (think Patagonia).
 
Brownie June 2, 2019
I try to consume fruits and vegetables rapidly to avoid spoilage. I do this by making vegetable soups and freezing fruits for smoothies or baking them in breads or bars. Until use I just keep them in package farmers market sold in. I have raised herb garden but in winter I keep herbs potted on Windowsill. Thus always having fresh herbs and not wasting herbs bought from store that always wilt in fridge prior to use. Great solution!
 
Kasey C. June 2, 2019
I keep eggs in the covered cardboard (or styrofoam) carton, but only because an egg will evaporate through the shell. It won't hurt anything, and it doesn't mean the eggs won't keep as long, but why have the waste? And because eggshells are porous, sometimes odors (fish, anyone? how about garlic? onions) will permeate the uncovered shells. Even if they're slightly oiled, I always keep them covered, to slow the process. ;-)
 
Adrienne B. June 2, 2019
I have a plastic storage box with a lid that you might use for shoes in my refrigerator where I put the cheese. It slides out nicely and keeps all the cheese together without drying out. I also put the cheddar, jack, etc in one bag in the box, and stinky cheese like blue in a separate bag also in the box.

I have two more boxes on the top shelf, cardboard, that I keep jars of condiments, pickles, etc. They also slide out and it's easier to get to things on that top shelf without having to rummage through things. My refrigerator is strange, the shelf doesn't go all the way to the back so things have a tendency to fall down to the next shelf if they are pushed around, and this prevents it.

I have one more cardboard box that I keep deli meat, hot dogs, etc in on the bottom shelf. It keeps things easily accessible and makes more room on the bottom shelf for leftovers, etc. I also have a bacon keeper that lives under the meat box.

One more thing I have on the second shelf, all the way in the back, is a lovely metal bowl from India that I keep my eggs in. I like it because I can see at a glance if I have enough eggs and they stack nicely and look pretty.

I'm definitely going to get painter's tape and a better pen to make things being stored, though. I hate "science experiments" in my fridge.
 
Mary L. June 2, 2019
I disagree with your mushroom storing advice. In my experience, mushrooms stored in plastic sweat, thus going south much faster. My preferred method to store mushrooms, both cultivated and wild, is in a paper bag. They stay fresh much longer. There's an added benefit, too. If your fridge is frost free and you forget about the mushrooms in the bag for a while, they will dehydrate. Completely dehydrated mushrooms can be stored in a bug-proof container in the cupboard for months.
 
cosmiccook June 2, 2019
@ Rosalind P--I AGREE-- If one adds up the cost of these sustainable alternatives it is cost prohibitive! Trader Joes veggie bags are now compostable--how HARD is it to make biodegradable sustainable products--looking at YOU HEMP, bamboo--that will benefit the earth--i.e. beverage seaweed rings that marine life can ingest as FOOD???
 
cosmiccook June 2, 2019
Thank you! Bummer its a Kitchenaid--I decided to go w that brand but it's gotten SO MANY bad reviews--from new to a few years old! Anyone out there has this model and can comment on its performance? What about the Bosch? I'm looking at counter-depth preferable w ONLY a water dispenser. I don't want a dispenser w ice as it takes up too much fridge space. Lots of dead space with standard depth.
 
Rosalind P. June 2, 2019
Once again, the more responsible and greener solution is inaccessible to low-income people, for whom the bad solution (plastic!) is free. If the plastic problem is to go away, the solution(s) must be accessible in every way, including for people whose energy, time and other available resources are very, very different from those of more affluent people (who, by the way, aren't always so responsible either). Let's find a way!
 
Garth M. June 2, 2019
Due to the ice maker in the door of my fridge I am left with condiment storage that is to narrow to place anything in. Has anyone found a use for this wasted space?
 
Krystina W. June 2, 2019
I have a side door with very narrow shelves too. I’ve made this my “wall of sauce”. All of our hot sauces and spicy condiments fit perfectly, even the beloved sirachi. Not for everyone, I know, but works for us. Mustards seem to fit nicely too.
 
ralee June 2, 2019
I’m really sad that so much PLASTIC use is being recommended in this article. The climate is in CRISIS, please start writing like it. Paper bags are great for mushrooms, use reusable silicone bags in lieu of plastic disposable, reusable produce bags...
 
cosmiccook June 2, 2019
What is the brand of the fridge in the first caption photo--the one with the wood trim?
 
Crystal S. June 2, 2019
https://www.bestbuy.com/site/kitchenaid-23-8-cu-ft-french-door-counter-depth-refrigerator-printshield-stainless/5508007.p?skuId=5508007
 
cosmiccook June 3, 2019
Have you had any repair or maintenance issues with it? I really like it but researching it got very negative reviews-not only in repair issues but lack of response by the company for in-warranty issues.
 
The P. June 2, 2019
I can't remember where I purchased them (possibly Sierra Trading Post?) but instead of plastic storage containers I got a huge set of square glass containers with plastic lids. I don't like storing leftovers/ingredient foods in plastic and I sure don't like to microwave said items in plastic.
 
Elizabeth June 2, 2019
Costco sells a nice set. In NYC H-Mart sells glass containers in every size imaginable. I got rid of all of my plastic containers and replaced with these. A lot of them are oven-safe, too, which is awesome.
 
The P. June 2, 2019
"I can't cook in a dirty kitchen. Seriously. Unless the counter top is clear, the stove is spotless, and my refrigerator is neatly organized, I can't so much as whip out the cutting board to get started on preparing a meal. Thankfully, I've gotten pretty good at maintaining a clean kitchen workspace."

That makes two of us.

 
Sue R. June 2, 2019
Coming in kinda late on this article, but: Crisper drawers usually have a humidity control gadget on them. Which way should it be put for fruits vs. vegetables??? I can never remember. Thanks!
 
Renee M. June 2, 2019
You put almost every item in plastic, that’s crazy wasteful. Do you realize most single use plastic products have a lifetime of only hours or days? Please
Update this article to tips that are more recent and practical
 
Kestrel June 2, 2019
Vejibags are fantastic. I wash my greens, put them in a wet bag, and they keep beautifully for a long time. I also throw the bags in the washing machine every now and then and dry them on the clothesline. I use metal containers with blue tape labels for leftovers, and I use lots of Weck jars for food storage as well. I avoid plastic as much as possible.