Organizing your refrigerator

Refrigerators, especially in the homes of active families, can be difficult to keep organized and free of expired foods. We’ve talked in the past about using a meal plan to help food move through your refrigerator before it rots. However, using a meal plan doesn’t necessarily keep a refrigerator from looking like it was hit by a very small tornado when its door was closed.

Like any storage space in your home, organizing your refrigerator to meet your needs can save you time and money over the long term. Here are some organizing helpers for inspiration:

  • If you or your family regularly consumes drinks from cans, you might benefit from a beverage dispenser or a can organizer.
  • Instead of cans, if you store a lot of bottles, you might need a bottle stacker.
  • Stackable, removable shelves are helpful for adding surface space in refrigerators and freezers.
  • And, shelf liners can keep foods from rolling to the back of a shelf and being forgotten. Shelf liners are also nice because they make cleaning shelves easy.

When putting food into your refrigerator, make sure that you’re storing food in its recommended location and cleaning the shelves and door seals regularly as recommended by your refrigerator’s manufacturer. If you’re not familiar with the different temperature zones in your refrigerator, use a thermometer to find out the variances within your unit. You might be surprised to find that there are multiple variances even on a single shelf (the back of our shelves are three degrees cooler than the fronts). Be sure to follow the FDA recommendation and keep your refrigerator set at 40F degrees or below on all shelves to prevent listeria and other food-borne pathogens. Also, check out if you have any questions about the shelf-life of the food you’re storing.

25 Comments for “Organizing your refrigerator”

  1. posted by christine on

    My take-away from my food service days was to never store meat or eggs on high shelves, because they can drip and contaminate other items.

  2. posted by Karen on

    I use bins to keep similar items together. This is especially useful if you are stuck with an older, smaller refrigerator that doesn’t have drawers or adjustable shelves. Depending on the size of your refrigerator, you may have to shop around to find the right size. My refrigerator is shallower than most modern fridges, so I ended up using drawer organizers which were the right size.

  3. posted by Dawn F on

    I recommend preparing all of your fruits, veggies and meats as soon as you unload the groceries such as rinsing the grapes and putting them in a bowl for kids to grab or cutting, cleaning and marinating meat for upcoming dinners. My feeling is that doing this right away prevents fruits/veggies/meats from being shoved out of sight in the fridge or freezer and lowers the chance of them spoiling.

    Plus, the easier you make it for kids to grab the easily accessible and ready-to-eat fruits like grapes or veggies like carrot sticks the more likely they are to eat them (instead of hitting the cookie jar – hopefully).

  4. posted by Betharu on

    Dawn – I agree! I try and wash and store in an airtight container all my veggies!

    I invested in some Lock & Lock containers to organize my veggies and any other leftovers that are fridge bound!

    They really do keep the fridge looking neat!

    Regarding the pic demonstrating the shelf liners – how can anyone but an open glass of juice in the fridge? I go to a client’s house to work and her fridge is packed – jammed to capacity. And she always has an open glass of some brown liquid (coffee?) in the front! Wouldn’t an open container like that take on all the odors of the fridge?

  5. posted by timgray on

    Dont buy unitaskers for “organizing” Most 12 packs of cans come with a built in “can organizer” called the box, they have a prepunched cutout that allows you to dispense a can at a time. Simply slide in the whole 12 pack.

    Also I find that getting away from the traditional shop for everything on Saturday to buying food 2 times a week has made a big difference. Meats and veggies are fresher if we buy fresh every 3 days and don’t buy more than we will eat in 3 days. This works so well that we will be replacing our fridge with a smaller energy star unit that uses 1/2 the power.

  6. posted by sylrayj on

    Be careful with shelf liners, please. You need decent air circulation throughout the fridge to cool your foods evenly and completely.

  7. posted by Awurrlu on

    A lot of my cooking is inspired by different cultures, so I have a number of sauces and ingredients that keep longer if refrigerated. Putting a small lazy susan on the top shelf of my fridge makes it really easy to find that container of chili paste in the back!

  8. posted by katherine on

    I use a large lazy susan on the bottom shelf of the fridge (I have a bottom freezer model) for small jars and containers that otherwise would get banished to the back of the tundra

  9. posted by Karen @ FamilyBriefs on

    I use the “utility box” that came with the refrigerator to store my ketchup, mayo, mustard, and hot dog relish in. When I make sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers, or chicken filet sandwiches, I can just grab the whole box out and have all the condiments readily available (instead of having to hunt for them and then putting them back one at a time). We, of course, keep the ketchup in the front so it’s easy to grab when we need it for french fries!

  10. posted by *pol on

    Thank you for “”! What a great site to use!

    (we have a side by side and a busy eat at home family)

    My fridge has zones too. Condiments live in the door shelves, milk products at eye level, meals to be made on the bottom shelf and leftovers on the top shelf seem to be the best system for our fridge to go through things in a timely manner and not lose so much.

    One thing that is indespensible to our busy family is having one shelf quite close to the one below it near the middle. It is just enough space for a carton of eggs to slip in (like an egg drawer). It keeps us from losing or crushing our eggs. And the rest of the shelf is enough space for the other slender losable containers like cream cheese, my husband’s homemade chili-garlic paste and stuff like that which tends to get seriously lost or tipped on the main or door shelves.

    Taking some of the fruits/veggies out of the crisper has made a world of difference to how frequently we consume them (thanks to your post a while back on the subject). The fruit and tomatoes just seem to have better flavour stored a room temperature, and I haven’t noticed them expiring faster (probably because we actually EAT them before they go bad!)

  11. posted by chacha1 on

    Love the idea of putting a lazy susan on a shelf. Why didn’t I think of that? Perfect solution to those jars of wasabi, thai chili mayo, ghee, etc.

    Re: dripping meat: dude, just put a plate under it.

    Buying small quantities is the win for me. Made easy because there’s a supermarket in walking distance from my office. I can get one re-usable bag full of nonperishables on my lunch hour, pick up the fresh stuff on the way home, done.

  12. posted by Ann on

    This is a crazy discussion thread.

  13. posted by cv on

    The most helpful thing I’ve found is simply acknowledging that the fridge is one of those areas that needs regular maintenance. We tend to eye everything in the fridge as we make a meal plan for the week to reorganize and assess what needs to be used soon. Sometimes this takes 5 minutes, often takes 10, and every once in a while takes 20 or 30 as we do a bit of a deeper clean (take everything off the shelves and out of the drawers to wipe them down, etc.). I like the idea of a system that would allow us to be perfectly organized at all times, but for us it’s just not realistic, and our system seems to work out pretty well.

  14. posted by on

    I make sure and keep all leftovers easily accessible on a single shelf. Then when we need something they are in clear stack able containers and the contents are easily identifiable. I keep like items stacked together. Veggies together, meats, side dishes…food never gets wasted this way in my home.

  15. posted by John Hritz on

    The best refinement we’ve come up with is a small whiteboard on the front of the fridge with a list of all of the perishables inside. It makes it easy to come up with a meal that uses them. It also makes it a little harder to lose that small container of leftovers that would make a good basis for a quick meal.

  16. posted by joy with less on

    Awesome post and some super ideas being shared in the comments. I just posted today about food wasted, in the past, from my fridge.

  17. posted by Rebecca on

    I keep a shelf/ drawer for kid accessible snacks, making snack time a more independent thing. I also keep a list on a dry erase board of items like leftovers and must eat soon items. My husb will eat stuff like that, he just forgets unless I tell him.

    I have a side by side, as well as a deep freeze in the basement, and I shop once a week. Before the next shopping day, our fridge is pretty bare, so I can easily tell what we have when making my list for shopping, and I can wipe out shelves and drawers so my new groceries go into a clean fridge.

  18. posted by Bridget on

    If you’re buying lots of produce there is a great link in this post with a .pdf for how to best store fruits and veggies…all without plastic! Pretty brilliant.

  19. posted by Melanie on

    I have to keep heathly snacks like fruit at eye level or I forget about it. Junk food must give off some kind of signal because I always know where it is. So, I store it out of sight.

  20. posted by Nic on

    I re-use the sturdy clear plastic containers from lettuce and spinach to sort condiments and other small items. I keep cheese in one and meats, etc. in another. The containers slide out like a drawer to grab one item or can sit on the counter when cooking. No need to buy expensive organizer products; even the take-out containers from natural foods markets and other places can be washed and used. When they crack or wear out just replace. For heavy-duty storage stack one inside another.

  21. posted by Gillian on

    I have taken all my veggies & fruit out of the drawers. I keep large margarine tubs, extra sliced cheese and the milk down there now and the veggies are in baskets on the shelf above. I get far less waste that way.

  22. posted by Kelly on

    Great post!

    The most important fridge and kitchen organizer to me is: me!

    I read a while back that while multiple people may cook in a household, one person in a house really does have to take responsibility for the kitchen. In my house that’s me, and it’s fine. I plan most of our meals and keep track of leftovers (I too keep them at eye level in the fridge). I make sure we’re cooking meat and eating vegetables before they are past their prime, and I freeze leftovers like soup for future meals if we aren’t getting through it. I check our dry goods and spices regularly for pests, and try to keep everything well sealed so things don’t get stale. Trying to share this responsibility was not good management for my husband and I, and we work much better now. He’s a great cook, and he does more of the clean up than me, so it balances out.

  23. posted by Viv on

    To me, buying a fridge that makes sense for what you buy is the important first step. Ironically, side-by-sides such as the one illustrating the article are the hardest to organize. I wanted one in the worst way until I had one! Frozen pizzas were too big for the freezer side, and it was easy to lose stuff in the skinny deep fridge side.

    Now I have a wide shallow fridge with freezer drawers on the bottom and I don’t have to worry about organizing tricks.

  24. posted by Useful Things » Blog Archive » Useful Things Weekly Link Round-Up on

    […] “Organizing Your Refrigerator” via Unclutterer […]

  25. posted by watercolor on

    Well, I’m single, so no family or kid friendly needs. I have wine in the door. lol. I tend to shop every few days for what I need. Use it. Buy more. I do make a food plan before I shop so I only buy what I need. That helps. I do need a better way to keep cheeses and small jars of sauces and pastes organized. A couple of tupperware containers without the tops just might be the ticket. Hadn’t thought of that. Thanks!

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