Avoid premature spoilage by following this comprehensive guide to keeping your food fresh in your refrigerator. Learning basic storage techniques will help to keep your family’s food supply safe and healthy.

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How to Store Food in the Fridge

A fridge isn’t just a box that keeps things cool. It’s a high-tech device that uses intelligent controls to ensure that the humidity levels, light, and temperature stay at an optimal level for storing food. By learning to store foods in the proper areas of the fridge, it’s possible to preserve the nutrients and ensure that foods don’t go bad. It’s also important to store foods properly to reduce the risk of contamination between leftovers. Odors are only part of the problem; there is also a risk that mold and mildew will spread if foods aren’t stored properly. Keeping foods at an optimal temperature of below 40 degrees Fahrenheit can inhibit the growth of bacteria and can help your food to stay safer for longer periods of time.

General Guidelines

One of the biggest mistakes people make is stuffing the fridge too full. When foods block the flow of air, it makes the fridge work harder and leaves certain areas of the fridge warmer than others. By taking a proactive approach to placing foods in the fridge in an intelligent way, it’s possible to keep good airflow and maintain an even temperature. Don’t place foods against the back or sides of the fridge, and aim to keep all of the food separated by about half an inch. This ensures that air can flow between the spaces in the fridge, and foods will be less likely to become rancid.

The refrigerator should also be cleaned as it gets dirty, but a full cleaning of the sides of the fridge once every three months is recommended. To do this, take all of the trays out of the refrigerator and clean them with hot, soapy water. It’s also a good idea to use a solution of diluted bleach to adequately kill bacteria. A good ratio is about one tablespoon of bleach for every gallon of water. Because many shelves have double-walled glass, it’s important to avoid soaking shelves. If water gets in between the glass, it can cause a situation that allows mold and mildew to thrive.

Placing a food thermometer in the fridge can ensure the right temperature is maintained, while also acting as a check against any digital readout provided by the fridge itself. Place it on the second shelf from the top to ensure that the readout is accurate. Should the temperature start to rise, lower the temperature on the fridge or get the refrigerator checked by a technician.

Finally, keep the refrigerator smelling fresh with an open box of baking soda on the second or third shelf. Write the date on the box, and replace it every one to three months.

Refrigerator Compartments

How to Store Food and Drink in the Refrigerator

There are several compartments in the typical refrigerator. Understanding how each compartment regulates temperature can make it easier to find the right place for each kind of food.

Main Compartment: The main compartment is where the bulk of the food is stored, and there are typically several shelves as well.

On the lower shelves, store raw meat, dairy, and eggs because the temperature tends to be coldest in this area of the fridge. If the fridge has a dedicated drawer for these items, it’s best to store them there. This is because these drawers help to maintain a consistent temperature.

Leftovers, prepared meals, and drinks can be placed on the top shelves. Herbs can also go on the top shelves as they are typically used more often than some other items. The upper shelves also tend to have the most consistent temperature. This is good for preventing those foods that spoil easily from going bad.

Doors: Some modern refrigerators have a door to access frequently retrieved foods in a pullout drawer that is available without opening the main door. This area is best for foods that are best enjoyed cold. Non-perishable items like drinks, some condiments, water, and other items that don’t easily spoil should be placed here. Don’t store perishable foods like milk here because the temperature is often unstable. This is also true of the shelving on the inside of the fridge doors. These shelves don’t maintain a consistent temperature and are often warmer than the rest of the fridge.

Sealed Drawers: In general, this is where all of the fruits and vegetables should get stored. Avoid mixing meat with your fruits and vegetables. Storing these foods together can create an increased risk of cross-contamination.

Top: People often store items on top of their fridge. Make sure you never place wine here, as it will ruin the wine. Also, don’t place bread on top of the fridge. The heat from the fridge can cause it to spoil more quickly. It’s perfectly fine to place appliances, cookbooks and non-food items on top. Don’t even put coffee here, as that will spoil the coffee. While on the subject of coffee, it’s important to point out that freezing or refrigerating coffee does not make it last longer. It only dries out the beans and destroys the oils that give coffee its fresh taste.

Cooking and Re-heating

How to Store Raw Fish in the Refrigerator

It bears mentioning that it’s not possible to make unsafe meat safe to eat. This means that it’s important to only reheat food once. Always place any uneaten portions in the refrigerator right away. When food is cooked to the right temperature it kills the bacteria and potential pathogens.

  • Cook whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and veal to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal should reach a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • All poultry should be cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Meat, Fish and Poultry

How to Store Meat in the Refrigerator

Raw meat, fish, and poultry provide some of the greatest hazards to one’s health in the refrigerator. Place these items in sealable containers or place a plate underneath them to ensure that any juices don’t escape. Don’t unwrap food that has already been wrapped at the store until its ready to be used. Re-wrapping food that isn’t yet ready for cooking just exposes it to potential bacteria and can make it unsafe to eat when it does come time to be cooked. Place these foods near the bottom of the refrigerator since it’s the coolest and darkest portion of most units.

Raw meat doesn’t keep forever. If meat isn’t used within a few days, it should be placed in a freezer bags with as much air removed from the bag as possible. Then, place the bags in the freezer for use at a later time. Provided the temperature of the refrigerator stays below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the meat in the fridge should keep for a while. However, it won’t protect the food from contamination forever.

  • Raw ground meats, all poultry, seafood, and other meats can keep for up to two days.
  • Raw roasts, steaks, and chops can keep up to five days.
  • Cooked meat, poultry, and seafood keep for up to four days.

Using a vacuum-sealed bag doesn’t prolong the life of the meat in the refrigerator. Bacteria already exists in meat, poultry and fish, and sealing the bacteria in does nothing to prevent it from growing. It can prevent the introduction of new bacteria, but it’s important to still follow the spoilage schedule to prevent an unsafe condition. Write the date that the food was acquired on the bag to ensure that it’s thrown away when too old.

To thaw a turkey or other meat product from a frozen state in the fridge, follow the guideline of letting it thaw for 24 hours for every four to five pounds. This means that a pound of meat should be thawed for about four hours before it’s ready to be cooked. Once the food thaws, it can be treated as fresh food and may be kept in the fridge using the schedule for raw meats.

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Dairy

How to Store Milk, Cheese and Dairy in the Refrigerator

There is no need to remove dairy products from their original wrappings. Keep milk, cottage cheese, and other dairy products sealed tightly in the fridge. However, once an item has been removed from its packaging, don’t return it. Instead, use plastic wrap or an airtight container to seal the food again. It’s best to purchase milk in glass bottles since bacteria can begin to form at the spout of a cardboard box. However, as long as the milk is used before the expiration date, it should be fine to drink.

Hard cheese should be kept in the original store packaging until it’s used. Once the cheese is removed from the wrapping, store it in wax paper, loose plastic, or foil. Because cheese needs to breathe, don’t worry about wrapping it too tightly. Wax paper is a good choice because it protects the cheese from the surrounding air while still allowing it to breathe a bit.

Fruits and Vegetables

How to Store Fruits and Vegetables in the Refrigerator

Many fridges come with a crisper drawer or a drawer designed specifically for fruit. Use this drawer if it’s available. It’s okay to mix vegetables and fruits together, but since fruits and vegetables give off different gases, it’s best to store similar foods together. For example, don’t mix apples with carrots or oranges with spinach. Try to keep each different type of vegetable in a different drawer.

Fruits and vegetables need to be able to breathe and let off gases. If the gases get trapped, the food will rot faster. Use breathable bags, or place vegetables in bags that aren’t sealed to ensure an optimal lifespan. Also, avoid the temptation to wash any produce before storing it since moisture is the death of vegetables. When using bags, it’s helpful to place a paper towel around the vegetables to help capture moisture. If no bag is used at all, then lay down a few paper towels in the drawer to ensure that they stay fresh and free of moisture.

Some fruits are actually better off purchased frozen if they are not currently in season. The belief that nutrients are lost in the freezing process and that all fruits and vegetables should be purchased fresh is not true. The reason for this is that frozen foods are typically picked at the optimal time where the nutrients are highest. They are then frozen, locking in the nutrients. Seek out flash-frozen fruits and vegetables as other methods can result in nutrient loss.

Some fruits and vegetables that don’t do well in the fridge include bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and squash. Hang bananas when you can, and try to avoid breaking the stem when pulling one off. This helps to ensure the bananas are kept fresh longer. Potatoes, onions and squash are best stored in a cool, dark place like a cupboard. Avocados can be placed in the fridge to slow down the ripening process, but it’s also fine to leave them out on the counter.

Leftovers

How to Store Leftovers in the Refrigerator

As we mentioned earlier, leftovers should be placed on the top shelves of the fridge because this is where the most consistent temperature is maintained. There are a few guidelines for storing and using your leftovers to maintain optimal freshness and avoid the growth of bacteria.

Leftovers should be stored in airtight containers as much as possible. It’s important to secure any leftovers to prevent odors from getting out into the rest of the fridge and contaminating your other foods.

Break up any leftovers into smaller containers. Don’t simply place everything into one large container. This cools the leftovers more quickly. While most bacteria are killed during the cooking process, some may still remain. It’s okay to eat small amounts in most cases, but this also means that there is potential for the bacteria to grow if left at room temperature. Smaller containers result in faster cooling of leftovers.

There is no need to wait for leftovers to cool down before placing them in the refrigerator. Hot air rises and cool air falls. Because of this, the other foods placed below the top shelf won’t see much of a fluctuation in temperature and within an hour or two, the temperature of the hot foods should be the same as the refrigerator.

If there is a turkey to be frozen, make sure to remove any of the stuffing and store it separately. This will help the turkey and stuffing to cool down more quickly.

Finally, it’s important to leave space between any leftovers. This will ensure that the leftovers cool down properly and good airflow is maintained throughout the refrigerator. Put prepared foods into the fridge as soon as possible, and don’t leave food items out on the counter longer than two hours.

Bread, Butter and Pasta

How to Store Bread and Pasta in the Refrigerator

Fresh pasta should be refrigerated. However, dried pasta should just be placed in an airtight container in the pantry. Breads also don’t need to be refrigerated, but the cooler environment can help prevent them from developing mold. This is especially true for people who live in a humid environment. The conditions of the refrigerator are controlled, and the cooling mechanism helps to remove some of the humidity from the air.

Blocks of butter and margarine do not need to be left in the fridge. It’s perfectly fine to leave butter on a tray with a cover. However, some butter may begin to separate when it’s not refrigerated. It’s not a bad idea to keep butter on one of the outside shelves of the refrigerator to help maintain the flavor and taste.

Wine, Beer and Alcohol

How to Store Alcohol in the Refrigerator

Beer can be kept in the refrigerator if you want it to remain cool. Also, the cold liquids can help reduce your energy costs by providing a buffer against changing temperatures.

White wines and drinks like Sangria can be kept in the fridge as well, but 40 degrees Fahrenheit is a bit too cold for most wines. It’s better to get a dedicated wine cooler that keeps wine at a temperature of around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, the ideal temperature for most wines.

Vodka and spirits that consist of 40 percent alcohol or higher can be kept in the freezer. The alcohol prevents the contents from freezing over. However, it makes more sense to keep these items in the fridge to maintain the flavor.

Irish cream and drinks like Kahlua don’t need to be placed in the refrigerator. The alcohol helps preserve the milk and cream, but it doesn’t hurt to keep it in the refrigerator on a side shelf if there is room. Most of these drinks are typically served cold anyway, so it makes sense to keep them in the fridge.

Final Considerations

The freezer compartment should be kept about 70 to 80 percent full. Placing blocks of ice in the freezer to fill empty space can ensure that the freezer stays cold in the event of a power outage. It can also help to preserve energy. The same is true of storing liquids in the fridge. If the power goes out, these liquids can act as a temporary cooling mechanism to provide some cooling to the unit.

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About the Author

Lauren Thomann

Lauren Thomann is a contributing writer covering home, moving and storage topics for the Life Storage blog.

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