Help With Purging Refrigerators?

I have been inspired today by 52's Feature on Organizing Your KItchen. While we are better organized in our refrigerators than in the past, we still have ongoing issues that NEED ADDRESSING!! Can you help with your practices/guidelines/ links to related articles? Does anyone follow their own guidelines that say things like: "If there's more than 1/4 cup of something left over, save it" or "2 T. of ground nuts may come in handy but 2 T. of soup will not" or "If I haven't used it in 1 month/6 months/ 1 year/ 5 years, out it goes." I have the hardest time throwing edible food AWAY! It's just not in my nature...... Thx for your help.

LeBec Fin


AntoniaJames January 11, 2016
I suppose this is more a "what to do with dregs" point, but it's not entirely off topic:

We love mustards and pickled fruits and chutneys of all kinds. When there are only a few tablespoons of one or the other, especially if it's something like a mustard that I buy regularly, and I have another jar waiting in the pantry (as I tend not to let us ever run out of such items), I mix them together, e.g, I chop up a few pickled plums with a couple tablespoons of coarse mustard, and then we put that on panini or similar sandwiches over the next few days. I use the leftover brine from those pickles to make a salad dressing, often with a dab of whatever jam is down to dregs. (Perfect for dressing beets!)
Great way not to clear out the condiments, which tend to take over our fridge if not dealt with on a regular basis. ;o)
AntoniaJames January 11, 2016
That should be, "great way to clear out condiments." Sorry. ;o)

Voted the Best Reply!

Mark A. January 10, 2016
I think a lot of people are really reluctant to throw food out. I'd observe, however, the more food you'll never eat that clutters your fridge and pantry, the less likely you are to be able to make use of the stuff you WILL eat. Also, if your fridge is neat and clean and full of stuff you WANT to cook with, you're more likely to cook in general.

I share an very small (cabinet depth) fridge with two other adults in a very busy kitchen (we almost never eat out and never buy processed/prepared food). I'm the kitchen cop, here are my rules:

1) Label everything - I use an industrial Sharpie (look for it on Amazon) to write dates on directly on everything. For reusable containers with leftovers/ingredients, I use white electrical tape for labels - it's amazing stuff: never falls off, easy to remove with no residue, cheap and available at every hardware store.

2) Think about your storage - I generally avoid ziplocs because they get lost too easily. I'm also a fan of re-used glass jars since they're free, various useful sizes, easily display ingredients and it's easy to label directly on the glass with the aforementioned Sharpie. I've recently switched over to deli containers for other storage based on Food52 and SeriousEats commentary - the jury's still out on this...

3) Be organized - our fridge gets "zoned" - upper left is dairy-ish, upper right is olives/fats/pickles. Middle left is leftovers, middle right is ingredients. We have miserably small produce drawers so the bottom shelf tends to hold veggies. Adjust the shelves to the heights of typical storage containers and readjust over time.

4) Weekly clean-out: we do one big shop a week and part of assembling the shopping list involves culling the fridge. A hard look at what you have and what you need also means less waste in general.

4) Be brutal: not labeled? Toss it. No clue what it is? Toss it. Don't have a plan for something? Toss it. Ever so slightly dodgy? Toss it. Fridge overflowing? Be merciless.

This article is very good:

Susan W. January 10, 2016
Very good advice Santa...I mean Mark. Electrical tape is a great tip. I've tried masking and duck..neither work. I ordered labels and they leave residue.
Mark A. January 10, 2016
Lol - I apparently need to update my avatar. Seriously - once you try the white electrical tape + Sharpie, you'll never go back...
ktr January 10, 2016
Interesting. I've always used freezer tape (looks like masking tape) for labeling containers for the freezer and colored masking tape for jars in the fridge. For some reason the colored "decorative" tape is easier to remove and doesn't leave any residue. When I'm canning I label the jars with either freezer tape or dissolving labels. I haven't been using the labels as often lately because they do sometimes leave a residue. It's easy to wipe off but I've found freezer tape removes easily without any residue.
luvcookbooks January 10, 2016
You certainly sparked joy when I read your response! This is so specific, I am going to try it out. Also, it doesn't involve purchasing a whole bunch of organizing things, which is helpful. :)) Thanks!
mstv January 9, 2016
When I have odds and ends of similar things I try to combine them into one dish. Odds and ends of various pasta could go in a casserole or soup. Odds and ends of nuts could go in a batch of granola.
Kristen W. January 9, 2016
I do a lot of the things described by Lyndie so my problem isn't as much about unused food, as it is about keeping the two uneaten tablespoons of some cooked dish that I think I as a minuscule snack? Eat as a minuscule side to some other main? When I was at my worst with this my husband described our fridge as a museum of my past meals. I also am too lazy sometimes to swap out the large container that I originally put the leftovers in for a smaller, space-saving one once the leftovers diminish. I'm great at utilizing raw ingredients so they don't go to waste; I am a bit too sentimental, however, about the resulting dregs of leftovers. So my helpful idea would be...maybe don't do that?
LeBec F. January 9, 2016
< head nodding>
ktr January 9, 2016
I always convince my husband to eat the last few bites so I don't feel like I have to save them.
LeBec F. January 9, 2016
Freezer organization: I use "fish bins" (both deep and shallow)for everything (they are the semi-opaque white, sometimes bright blue, plastic bins that fish dealers use to deliver and store fish; a stranger might think i'd been a fish dealer.) In our new "tall freezer" in the pantry, 2 fish bins fit on each non-drawer shelf. I label their fronts w/ magic marker: MEAT, SFD, POULTRY, VEG, STARCH, DESSERT (incl. cookie dough), TR J , BREADS ,or i put a label on a basket drawer. SOUPS( alot of soups and stews, so i have devised an entire space-saving way of packaging them) are frozen in convenient shapes and stored on freezer doors.
Flours, grains, nuts, ice cream also on doors.
On the freezer door of our main frig, i keep OJ concentrate (i use for cooking, sauces, marinades) and little saran or ziploc packets of tomato paste, chipotle puree, jalapenos, ginger root,
small q's of grains, jars of sesame seeds, chili flakes.
In our second, back-up frig in the pantry, the freezer section is all SAUCES or sauce-makings, stocks, demi-glaces, divided in fish bins labeled MEX., ITAL., FRENCH, ASIAN.
Michelle T. May 17, 2019
Wow! I love this image of the freezer! Where can I see more of your hacks???
LeBec F. May 17, 2019
you have me scared by calling my techniques 'hacks'//what do you mean?
more of my techniques, w/photos- can be found by clicking my name above,clicking my recipes, and scrolling through the entries til you find a technique title.
Michelle T. May 17, 2019
luvcookbooks January 8, 2016
Such a good question. I suffer from often buying more than I can cook and then throwing out good food. (once good, anyway) I am trying really hard to develop menus and shopping lists each week. Sometimes they morph from a more ambitious menu to something I can cook with the same ingredients really fast, but it's a start. I think I need to hire a housekeeper to help keep the refrigerator clean and organized. SOME people leave empty packages in the refrigerator and OTHER people leave a dab of food in a plastic container for a long period of time. Still, my refrigerator looks nicer than it used to. I have a big glass jar of candied kumquats in syrup on the top shelf and a couple of jars of preserved Mayer lemons, also quite beautiful. I would be interested in hearing how people keep their refrigerators and freezers organized. The freezer is a wilderness of good intentions for me.
Susan W. January 8, 2016
It's funny that you brought this up. Just yesterday, I looked at all my tiny portions of things and decided to use them up.

First dish: Phad Thai. I used up the last 1/4 cup of tamarind, date palm sugar and ten chili arbols. I used a spaghetti squash instead of rice noodles and had no tofu, so I velveted some boneless chicken thighs that I had in the freezer and used those. I even used one cube of frozen like juice and zest that was in a small baggie in my freezer. I don't like peanuts, so I used up a small bag of macadamia nuts I also had in my freezer. It was delicious and it was satisfying to use up all the bits.

Second dish: I had opened a can of coconut milk and only used 1/4 cup. So..I made a delicious soup with chicken stock that I had just made, soaking water from my dried shiitake mushrooms, a knob of ginger, a knob of turmeric, garlic, more dried chili arbols, velveted pork (used up two thin chops from my freezer) and two TBS of red curry paste left at the bottom of the jar. I tossed in some shaoxing wine and mushroom soy sauce that I always have in my pantry and the last of the can of bamboo shoots that I had used in a previous stir fry.

Two delicious dishes and the huge satisfaction of clearing out my fridge for more stuff. :)
SMSF January 8, 2016
Yum, that soup sounds delicious! I probably have most of the ingredients around and could use them up. Thanks.
Susan W. January 8, 2016
It turned out really well. I tossed in a box (4 ounces) of baby kale that was hiding too. Forgot about that.
SeasonToTaste January 8, 2016
I don't follow "rules," per se, but I am pretty quick to migrate a single serving of leftovers to the fridge for an easy future lunch or dinner. For me, menu planning around what is in season/available from my CSA goes a long way toward minimizing waste. I keep a large ziplock bag in the freezer for vegetable trimmings or past their prime veggies and these are used for stock-making. The same with chicken bones. Periodically, I plan dinners that are designed to use up odds and ends -- basically, "kitchen sink" soup, burritos or enchiladas, or grain bowls topped with bits of whatever needs to be used.
ChefJune January 8, 2016
Thanks, Lyndie. You've reminded me there's a huge bag of "soup scraps" in my freezer that probably need to be used this weekend.
SeasonToTaste January 8, 2016
oops! I meant to say "migrate to freezer!"
cave76 January 10, 2016
On top of using bits and pieces of food in soup, stews---- if it's not meat or protein you can add it to your compost pile, if you own one.
C S. January 8, 2016
I'm with LBF what about the "light" salad dressings people bring to potlucks but you know you won't use. The fish sauce, tamarind paste, ketchup and pomegranate molasses the adult children buy when they are home and then leave. The black tea caramel that seemed like a such a good idea at Thanksgiving but not so much in January. All good but not things that are in my regular rotation, it's hard to give away opened containers, but I hate to throw them out. This is a great topic.
ChefJune January 8, 2016
I "donate" any bottled salad dressings brought into the Chez Julia kitchen. We have a shelf in our garbage room where folks can share unwanted but still good goodies with neighbors (bottled or boxed items). They never hang around very long or they get pitched.
Nancy January 8, 2016
I keep perishables (cooked foods, open ingredients) in the fridge for a range of 3 to 7 days, sometimes 10 days. Within that period I either serve it, cook it (so the clock starts again) or freeze it. In rare cases, some things go bad or lose their taste, so they get chucked out...about a third of a bunch of celery went yesterday, despite good intentions. It was just DULL.
I keep foods with preservatives (jams, salad dressings, fragile oils) between 6 months and 2 years.
Some things, like nuts, dried fruits, uncooked meat or fish, go directly to the freezer.
When in doubt, consult sites like or which have useful guidelines to real shelf life of foods (e.g. canned pumpkin 2-5 years, so actually ok even if past the manufacturer's estimated "best by" date; milk and cream about a week to 10 days AFTER the labelled use by date).
No guidelines by amount. If it's tasty and within the guidelines, usually can find a use for it....a bit of onion to liven a sauce, a few nuts to add crunch to a pudding, etc.
stacy January 8, 2016
Onions, carrots and celery can go in the freezer to use for stock. Even if they're getting wilty.
Nancy January 8, 2016
Stacy - thanks for the tip about storing (wilty) veg in freezer for soup. Didn't know that.
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