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13 Organizing Hacks for Your Tidiest Fridge Yet

Plus, fresher, longer-lasting food.

September 21, 2021
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

Says Staff Writer, Kelly Vaughan, “chefs swear by this trick and after working in a restaurant, I do too. No longer do you have to open a container, give it a sniff, and say to your roommate or partner, 'when did we have these mashed potatoes?' The label tells you everything you need to know."

2. Separate Certain Fruits and Vegetables

Says Market Editor, Jada Wong, "I learned from my mom at a young age to take fruits and vegetables out of any plastic wrapping or produce bags before putting them in the fridge or on the counter. It helps with proper airflow so fruit won’t get too ripe before you can eat them, or worse, develop mold."

Plus, she points out, "I put most of my fruits and veggies in the crisper drawer or middle shelf of the fridge. It’s key to actually eating them. And I say most because I leave 'hard' fruit out on the counter, like apples, pears, and nectarines. 'Soft' fruit like mangoes, plums, and berries go in the fridge.'

3. Make Use of Baskets and Bins

Home52 Editorial Lead Arati Menon was fed up with parting ways with “condiments, chutneys, and spreads, teeny containers of takeaway sauces, and mason jars of pickled veggies” from a lack of fridge organization. She’s probably the ultimate when it comes to keeping things clean, but losing track of items within the fridge was plaguing her, so she turned to a storage solution she’d employed time and again in other parts of her home, but hadn’t thought of using in the fridge: bins. “If it’s good for your pantry, it’s probably good for the fridge,” Arati says, “after all, the same principles apply: zone, label, stack, elevate. So, why stop at bins? Why not employ all pantry organizers—trays, baskets, lazy Susans, even tiered shelf organizers?”

4. 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, 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 piece of Bee's Wrap and store in the middle shelf of the fridge—they'll last for at least a week.

5. 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.

6. Save All Your Deli Containers

Assigning Editor, Rebecca Firkser, packs all her leftovers “in quart, pint, or half-pint deli containers. Every size uses the same lid, they stack on top of each other neatly, and don't leak if they accidentally get knocked over—they're the only 'Tupperware' I own!" And if you’re wondering how long to keep these handy storage containers, we’ve got you.

7. 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.

8. 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 food writer Valerio Farris. They'll last much longer—up to a month!—if you store them in your refrigerator, sealed in a bag or container 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.

9. Meat and fish belong at the bottom

"Not only does storing meat, poultry, and fish at the bottom of the freezer keep them colder," says Kelly, "but it also prevents cross-contamination. Otherwise, if you store it on a top shelf and the package leaks, the meat drippings may fall onto raw produce, packages of butter, or anything else stored in your fridge, which can easily spread bacteria."

10. 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.

11. Line Shelves and Drawers

We can all admit that our refrigerators have a tendency to get a little messy, right? Sometimes it’s just too exhausting after a full night of cooking dinner and doing all the dishes to also wipe down the shelves in the fridge. Drips of opened drinks, drops of jam, crumbs from a poorly-wrapped pastry, they love to linger. The best (and easiest) way to combat this problem is to line the drawers and shelves with a heavy-duty, water-resistant liner that wipes up easily and can be removed for deep cleaning. One like this that has ridges is ideal because it will allow airflow above and below, preventing mold or mildew from any pooling liquids.

Jada does something similar, and uses “old sheet pans and baking trays that have warped or peeled as shelf liners instead of traditional plastic liners. They’re much easier to pull out (almost like a drawer) and the raised edges help contain spills a lot better, too. They also come in handy when I’m prepping large meals and want to group certain ingredients together—this way, I can pull out everything I need at once without having to dig around.”

12. Consider a Lazy Susan

Editorial Lead Margaret Eby is a self-proclaimed “condiment maximalist,” which means “that I both have at least three kinds of hot sauce at all times, and that they tend to get lost in the depths of my fridge if I’m not careful. After accidentally rebuying the same kind of mustard that I already had twice, I finally invested in a clear, small, turntable (or a ‘Lazy Susan’ but listen, Susan, I know you were framed) for my fridge. It means that I can keep all those little bottles and cans organized, and that I just need to give it a spin to see my whole collection.”

13. 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.

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 Brand Partnerships 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.

80 Comments

iamann September 24, 2021
I have done some of the suggested organizing but I always hate labels getting stuck on containers. Painters tape works well, but are there others that peel off well without leaving sticky stuff?
 
C F. September 23, 2021
I use the cardboard carrier that a 6 pack of beer comes in to corral small condiment bottles in the door of the frig. Keeps them from falling over and the compartments are just the right size for bottles of ketchup, etc. Cut off the handle at the top and it fits just right.

I also use plastic shoe boxes in the freezer to keep like items together, i.e. fruit, veggies, etc. (I know, "plastic bad" but glass wouldn't work in there :-{
 
Liz September 21, 2021
that front page refrigerator photo is absolutely hilarious! who in the world refrigerates their Worcestershire?
 
C F. September 23, 2021
me, but i'm just that way :-/
 
iamann September 23, 2021
I have always refrigerated mine. Makes sense to me, since I don't use it that often
 
Laura M. September 21, 2021
Links for refrigerator liners don't work ... :-(
 
Caroline M. September 21, 2021
Just updated!!
 
judy September 21, 2021
Also a note about storing used items together. This only works if they can be stored in like ways. deli meats and bread should NOT be stored in the same areas of the fridge, not should mayo and eggs.....Just saying.
 
judy September 21, 2021
I have read several of these article from F52 over the years. Again may I remind folks that plastics are no longe a sound investment. May I make alternate suggestions: Use Debbie Meyer food boxes for produce and cheese storage? They work great. I also use her bags. yes they are plastic. But they can be reused many times (many more than the 10 times reported on the packaging)--I have some that are a couple of year old, reused at least weekly. I throw them away when the are full of holes. They wash well, even if . need to use a little soapy water to get our residue. Her green boxes also keep food well. Good quality products going in will stay fresh for a week or more, depending on the type of produce. I like the beg bread box: holds a lot and can hold a variety of items fresh for quite a while: mine generally has in it a couple of lemons/limes, head of red cabbage (never use the whole thing in one meal), bunch of small bell peppers, radishes (stems removed day of purchase and used for salad as they do not keep), and part of a red onion. the onion Is in an onion keeper is in a small bowl and covered with a vinyl bowl cover--still keeps longer inside the box!. this box gets just about whatever will fit in it at the time that I need to keep: avocados, stone fruit, broccoli or cauliflower. The do keep at varying stages of time. And I will take note of author's comments about which to store together. Maybe a 2nd green box is in order (I just have a small fridge in a studio apartment so space is a premium). There are smaller green boxes as well for smaller items, or smaller volume, such as bagged lettuces, cilantro or other herbs. One trick with these boxes is line the bottom with a piece of paper towel or cotton dish cloth and cover produce with same. This is to absorb condensation and prolong life of veggies. Replace as towels become wet. I reuse the paper towels after they dry. Another suggestion I have is using elasticized vinyl bowl covers. Vermont Country Store sells the best version of these, as the vinyl is pretty heavy duty. Mine have lasted about 8 years so far. There are 6 sizes in the order. I use them to directly cover a piece of cut fruit (that I then place in my big green box if it will fit) or over the bowl. Then accommodate a wide variety of sizes of produce and bowls from cut watermelon to tomatoes or onion and can go over a bowl with dough in it for rising (rise this in the micro, not a heated oven, or it will melt). I have not purchased a roll of plastic wrap in more than a decade!. There are much green ways to do many of the suggestions listed in this list. Also, I note the tall bottles of wine in the fridge front and center. What is with this. One then has to remove them, reach over or around them and try not to knock them down reaching for stuff behind them. Much better to put them on the sides of the shelf so that the are not in the way of the rest of the items in the fridge. Easier to reach behind if they are at the side. So, this list has some good heads-up but poor execution.
 
Caroline M. September 21, 2021
Great tips! We also wouldn't recommend plastic wrap or baggies at this point, we have lots of reusable options in our shop and most of our staff has a habit of collecting jars and containers for reuse.
 
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.
 
Caroline M. September 21, 2021
We regularly update our older content to make sure it's as accurate as possible, which includes this one! We've also removed all suggestions for single-use plastics, we're not into that either!
 
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!