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.
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.
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.