Organizing your Refrigerator – and Keeping it that Way!

dirtyHow stressful is it to come home from the grocery store to a chaotic fridge? Vegetables, milk and soy sauce are all shoved to the same corner, and you still have to find a place for the new items! Chances are, you end up throwing in the new items anywhere they’ll fit so that the door still closes, and you walk away, promising to deal with it later. And not to mention all the grime that also needs cleaned! It’s OK; we’ve all been there. But this post is to help shape up your fridge habits, keeping it clearly organized and clean, too.

Let’s start at the root of the problem. It’s likely that you’re storing too many items that no longer serve a purpose: stale bread, moldy sauces, outdated sour cream, etc. You’ll need to go through each item and toss what isn’t useful anymore. This means going through item-by-item, placing the “keep” items on the counter and pitching, recycling or composting the other items. While you’re accumulating the “keep” items, start placing them in groups based on similarities. Also, you may begin wiping the outsides of the items so that when you place them back in the fridge, they don’t ruin your freshly cleaned shelves. Throughout this process, you’ll have to deal with some counter clutter, but it’ll definitely be worth it!

emptyNow that everything is out of your fridge, it’s time to clean it up! This calls for wiping shelves to tackle that mystery sticky gunk and to suck up the infamous crumb and bits residue. It’s also a great time to actually take out the crisper drawers and wash them in the sink with warm, soapy water. Lastly, you may want to wipe the outside of the fridge, paying extra attention to the handles. Your food and your family will thank you for this.

With the ridding and washing out of the way, now you have to figure out how to put all of this stuff back. Though it’s tempting to quickly throw in the items at random to get rid of the counter clutter, this is the time you have to strategize for item placement. A good strategy to follow is to organize based on food safety and cross-contamination prevention, which is how restaurants organize their refrigerators. More specifically, separate items based on the temperature to which they need to be cooked. Based on this idea, the foods that require no specific cooking temperature to be safe (for example, leftovers or prepared foods) would reside at the top. Groups would then descend based on their safe cooking temperature, thus leaving items like raw chicken at the bottom. This way, even if the chicken ends up dripping, it won’t be dripping onto other food items.

Other considerations to include in your strategy are the specific temperatures that the food items need to hold and the level of humidity they need in their environment. Typically, the inside shelves are colder than the door shelves. And usually, the crisper drawers are designed to hold produce at a certain humidity level. So, with these considerations in mind, you can start to get an idea of where items should go. It may seem odd to place produce in these drawers, considering they would then reside under the meat, so I’ve provided a few solutions for that:

  • Separate the drawers, using one for meat and one for produce. If the drawers are placed on top of each other, be sure to put the meat in the bottom one, and make it a top priority to check up often on the cleanliness of that one.
  • If you have enough produce to fill both drawers, you could create your own meat drawer on another shelf by using a plastic bin that will catch any drips and safely store meat separately.

organizedNow that we have an idea of where items should go, let’s apply this to a home fridge using some common items:

  1. Upper shelves: drinks, leftovers, cheese, yogurt, deli meats, etc.
  2. Lower shelves: raw ingredients for cooking
  3. Door: condiments
  4. Drawers: produce

In order to keep your fridge looking so great, you could create a schedule to regularly follow for cleanouts and item placement checks. Perhaps every week, you could clean out the prior week’s food and get your fridge ready for the next week of groceries, avoiding the chaos of returning from the grocery store.

Well, Clean Geeks, what do you think? Does anyone else have any ideas to get a refrigerator looking immaculate (and keeping it that way)? Leave your thoughts below!