Kitchen Hacks

9 Ways to Get Your Refrigerator Supremely Organized

Plus, fresher, longer-lasting food.

March 21, 2020
Photo by Julia Gartland

I don’t have the prettiest of refrigerators. It is old, white (more like cream at this point), noisy, and inconvenient—standard New York City rental fridge. I spend hours dreaming of having a kitchen with a spanking new, stainless steel, French-door version. Ice-maker, wine chiller, giant freezer and all...(Hey, at least I'm not asking for a built-in camera!)

Until such a time manifests though, the one thing that I do have is a pretty organized refrigerator. I mean, you could surprise me with a visit, walk straight up the fridge, open it—and not recoil in horror. In fact, you might even remark on how clean it is, how easily you can find the labeled leftovers, the condiments, and how tidily the herbs are stored.

The reason for all the effort I put into keeping my refrigerator organized is that I really can’t cook in a kitchen that’s less than spotless—countertop, stove, cutting board and all. That quest for tidiness has prompted me to pick up a few tips and tricks along the way. Not just for organizing my fridge but making everything in it last that much longer, and stay that much fresher. Here are some of them that have worked for me.


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, make sure you whip out a label and write both the name of what it is and the date of storage. You'll know what's been in the fridge longest, and therefore prioritize what needs to consumed first, as well as what you possibly need to stock up on (and not) the next time you make a trip to the store.

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“Please stop all the plastic wrap and plastic bag recommendations! Care for our planet first. ”
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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. The reason behind this is that these 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. If I could count the number of times I've bought fresh cilantro, and watched as its leaves went yellow and then brown! It's usually at that point that I jump in (I'm working on it!) and try desperately to save the handful that are still half-green. 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. And also look pretty in the bargain.

4. Give pantry products a new home I'm going to let you in on something that took me by total surprise: There are a number of items that you currently store on the shelves of your pantry that would fare much much better in your refrigerator. 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. The reason for this is that yeast is easily destroyed upon exposure to light and heat. For longer-term storage, you can even keep yeast (in an airtight container) in your freezer, where it'll last for up to a few months.

5. Let eggs and dairy chill out. For the longest time, I believed that dairy—milk, cream, eggs, and cheese should be stored on the inside door of the fridge. Turns out that's not the best idea. 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 put together breakfast before heading out the door.

6. Give your lemons and limes a drink of water to last longer. Contrary to common practice (even I'm guilty of this), the countertop is no place for your lemons and limes to live, 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. In fact, you could even consider storing your meat in a crisper drawer to keep it away from other foods and prevent cross-contamination. 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. Store and arrange items according to what other items they go with. 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! The less time I spend hunting around my fridge and making things topple (and spill), the happier I am, so this makes complete sense.

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!

This article originally appeared in March 2019. We’re re-running it because a supremely organized refrigerator is a thing of beauty.
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Erin Alexander is the Associate Editor 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.

69 Comments

Rumy,Narayan June 27, 2020
I am confused, is this post from 2020, or 2019? If it is from 2019, may I suggest that you at least offer alternatives to plastic please? I went through the thread and found comments on plastic from 2019, yet you did nothing to update your recommendations to acknowledge those comments. This is not political anymore, we need to think about how plastics impact our food systems and us.
 
vimalawason June 20, 2020
I just bought a new fridge for my place and I would love to be able to keep it running well! That is a good idea to prolong the life of produce, greens, fruits, etc. Further more details visit this website : https://www.coimbatoreservice.com
 
vimalawason June 20, 2020
I just bought a new fridge for my place and I would love to be able to keep it running well! That is a good idea to prolong the life of produce, greens, fruits, etc. Further more details visit this website : https://www.coimbatoreservice.com
 
cosmiccook June 20, 2020
The link above is a stand alone website for service repair
 
Anne J. March 25, 2020
I’m begging you, place meat and/or fish on a plate or tray with a rim because with the best intentions there always seem to be drips, and if we include chicken now we potentially have salmonella at loose in the refrigerator, at the very least a nasty mess that dries to a calk like hardness. Unless, of course, your meat or fish don’t behave as mine do.
 
viviancooks March 25, 2020
Good grief! Live in SF Bay area. The only thing happening to my refrigerator and freezer (luckily a big stand up one in the garage full of premade homemade food and ingredients and a fridge that was luckily loaded with produce before the quarantine) is that everything is slowly disappearing. No need to organize...just need to coordinate meals that will keep us IN for as long as possible! Thank god I have so much on hand!!! I feel like we are in a sci fi movie!
 
chefpcf December 20, 2019
Old fashioned brown paper lunch bags and glass mason jars are still the best storage tools for the fridge and pantry.
 
Alicia June 4, 2019
Please stop all the plastic wrap and plastic bag recommendations! Care for our planet first.
 
LM September 15, 2019
You would rather food spoiled faster and was wasted.
 
emgoh September 18, 2019
Agreed. Glass and metal containers, bees wax fabric wraps, etc. are good viable options. I'm also working on shopping with a specific, well thought out list to avoid buying too much of something that won't last well (fresh herbs, etc.) and plan meals before shopping. It helps.
 
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.
 
breff M. October 27, 2019
If you have glass (or other) containers with lids, you can use them instead of plastic wrap or foil.
Also, a correction: fresh eggs do not need to be stored in the fridge.
 
Minirider January 7, 2020
My understanding is that because of the way most eggs are processed in the US, they should be refrigerated. Unless you have access to real fresh chicken eggs, that is!
 
Anne J. March 25, 2020
They are washed in US, in UK they are not, and therefore retain natural protective coating which keeps them fresh, so unless they come straight from the hen they need to be refrigerated in the US.
 
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.
 
AngiePanda January 6, 2020
Rather than painters tape, just get a dry-erase marker to label your containers, comes right off when you want it to and generally stays put pretty well as long as you give it time to dry before touching. I've been doing it that way for years!
 
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.
 
Jan March 24, 2020
I have a Bosch French door refrig at my house in AZ, ice/ no water & a big Kitchen Aid side by side 2-door with ice but no water at my shore house. They are both great. I don’t like the water on the fridge. Takes up too much space too
 
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...