How to Store Food in the Fridge So It Lasts

Tuesday Oct 20 | BY |
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What’s the best way to store food in a refrigerator to keep it fresh?

Apples in the bottom drawer, tomatoes up top, fish in the middle.

Or should it be tomatoes in the drawer, fish up top, apples in the middle?

All those shelves and drawers. Is there a “right” way to store food in the refrigerator?

The General Layout of a Refrigerator

First, it helps to know a few basics. Experts recommend that you set the temperature at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower (recommended 32 to 40), but then realize that temperature will vary in different sections depending on where the cooling unit is. Since many refrigerators do not tell you the temperature, you may want to get a refrigerator thermometer to keep inside.

In general:

  • Doors are the warmest part of the refrigerator.
  • Upper shelves have the most consistent temperatures.
  • Lower shelves are the coldest.
  • Crisper drawers (also called “produce drawer” or “humidity drawer”) provide a more humid environment than the rest of the refrigerator. Some (but not all) have sliding humidity controls.
  • The back of the refrigerator is typically colder than the front.

If your refrigerator is stuffed too full, you risk interrupting airflow, which can increase temperatures and cause your food to spoil faster, or even expose you to disease-causing bacteria.

What Food Goes Where?

Now that we have the general layout, what goes where? We’ll start with some general guidelines depending on food type. Recommendations vary slightly, and you may want to make adjustments depending on your unique refrigerator design, but on the whole:

  • Doors: Since this is the warmest section, and temperature will fluctuate when you open and close the door, you want to put the things here that are most resistant to spoilage. That includes condiments, juices, jams and jellies, oils, sodas and beer, and sauces. The lidded compartment is the perfect place for butter and margarine. (If you have an egg compartment, use it for butter—eggs need the cooler temperatures of the middle or bottom shelves.)
  • Top shelf: This shelf is cool, but not as cool as the lower shelves, so plan accordingly. It’s best not to place items that need to be cooked here. Include instead things that need to be cool, but not too cold, like milk (best in the back where it’s cooler), juices, other beverages, cheese, sauces, and other ready-to-eat foods. Leftovers work here, too.
  • Meat drawer: If you have one of these in the middle, store your deli meats, cheeses, and other similar foods here. It’s a little colder than the top shelf, but not as cold as the bottom ones. If yours has an adjustable temperature, keep it as cold as possible without freezing the meat.
  • Middle shelf: This shelf is similar to the top one in terms of temperature, so you can do some doubling up here. This shelf is also perfect for leftovers, cooked meats, and cheeses.
  • Bottom shelf: This is the coldest of all the shelves, so it’s best for raw meat, poultry, fish, and seafood products (all stored in bags to prevent leaking juices), eggs, yogurt, sour cream, and those leftovers that are more vulnerable to spoilage.

Note: Always put cooked food above raw food to avoid cross-contamination.

A Little About Crisper Drawers

Your crisper drawers are both cooler and more humid than other areas of the refrigerator. That makes them perfect for most fruits, veggies, and leafy greens. Though both are the same, it’s best to think of them differently in your head, to avoid combining items in a way that may increase spoilage.

Fruits like apples, peaches, pears, cantaloupe, and plums produce ethylene as they ripen. If you store vegetables in with them, that ethylene can contaminate them, causing them to spoil faster. So first of all, assign one drawer to fruits, and the other to veggies.

  • Crisper drawer 1: Store fruits here.
  • Crisper drawer 2: Store veggies and greens here.

Some produce items, however, are best kept out of the crisper drawers and stored on shelves instead, and some are best left out of the refrigerator altogether. Some guidelines:

  • Optional store on shelves: Apples, cantaloupes, figs, honeydews, watermelon, and apricots, on the middle and upper shelves.
  • Keep out of the fridge: Things like tomatoes, avocados, bananas, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, onions, potatoes, garlic, cucumbers, honey, and citrus fruits.

If you have humidity controls on your drawers, follow this general rule of thumb:

  • Low humidity: Put things that tend to rot in this drawer. This includes apples, kiwis, mangoes, papayas, berries, and plaintains. (You may want to store berries on the shelves to protect them from ethylene-emitting fruits.)
  • High humidity: Put things that wilt in this drawer. That includes leafy greens and herbs, broccoli, carrots, peppers, peas, and celery.

How do you organize your refrigerator? Please share any tips you have with our readers.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho.


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  1. Deane Alban says:

    I can’t believe I didn’t know this. I’ve been doing quite a few things wrong but the biggest surprise was that cucumbers should NOT be stored in the fridge. I’ll be rearranging my fridge today!

  2. suz says:

    Store produce in re-used jars laying them flat on the shelf in the fridge. They stay crisp and last a week longer than in plastic bags or plastic containers.

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