Mmmmm, yogurt. Oh, look — crispy lettuce! Ah, cold beers.
Yes, a fridge can be an unrelenting, chilly cavern of wonder. But it isn’t just a closet for food — we’re willing to bet you’ve been doing fridges wrong this whole time. 😱
You’ve met your fridge before, no doubt. It’s a high tech device that helps you store all of your favorite snacks, condiments, and meal-fixins in optimal conditions.
And like any high-tech device, there are subtleties you can use to make the most of it. Not only do refrigerators have different compartments that serve different purposes, but they also have different temperature zones.
And if you didn’t know this, you’re likely storing things in the wrong place, and you’re not taking advantage of the modern miracle of refrigeration.
There’s a myth that having more food in the freezer reduces the energy bill. And while that would be lovely, it’s not strictly true: Your fridge produces the same amount of cold no matter how many wieners you keep in there.
However, you might be wasting food, watching milk curdle and spinach wilt into thin air. That’s costing you grocery money and failing to make the most of your energy bills. It’s possible to make that part of your energy bill go further and work harder.
You can, essentially, hack your fridge to do more. Chill with us a second, and we’ll show you how…
Keeping food cold is kitchen hygiene 101.
Doing so prevents the growth of bacteria and other microbes that make food spoil and might even cause food poisoning. And you don’t wanna be the one who provided the eggs that made all your friends poop themselves that one time.
Refrigerators should stay at 40º F (4.4º C) or lower, and freezers should be at a setting of 0º F (-17.7º C).
But even when the refrigerator is sufficiently cold, the temperature will vary in different parts of the fridge depending on how close they are to the cooling element. This makes a huge difference in where you should strategically place foods for maximum freshness.
Master the humble art of the refrigerator, and your food will last longer. We rounded up some food prep ideas that really do last the week.
Allow this handy infographic to guide you around your fridge (and the world just outside of it).
Let’s break down this bad boy section by section.
To start off with the obvious stuff: Freezers are for freezing things that need to be frozen. (duh!)
The ice for your drinks and smoothies goes in the freezer, as do any frozen fruits, veggies, meat, stock, and other items.
However, you can also store a surprising number of other foods in the freezer for later use, such as tortillas, pasta sauce, and even eggs. If you’re into batch cooking, you can whip up a week’s worth of food and keep it safe to eat.
Homemade stocks for thickening soups and making risottos creamy can also live in the frozen depths until you need them.
You can also freeze bread and homemade doughs for up to 3 months, but don’t store it in the fridge or it’ll dry out.
The trick with freezers is to pack foods tightly in their containers and keep everything well organized. This optimizes storage and also gives you more bang for your energy bucks.
Rather than using glass jars, which can break, freeze foods in stackable plastic containers or in plastic freezer bags laid flat.
And yes, we know you don’t want to hear it, but make sure you defrost that sucka at least once every year. More than half an inch of frost and you’re going to run into sticky drawers and storage problems.
The avoid list: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advise that you do not freeze the following:
- vacuum-packed salads
- pre-stuffed meats
- canned ham
- ready meals that have been cooked at the store
- eggs in the shell (that shell can crack in the extreme cold)
If you do want to freeze eggs, a cheeky hack may be to crack the eggs into separate compartments of a muffin tin, then place that inside a freezer container for storage. Frozen eggs have thicker yolks and don’t really blend well for other purposes, however.
You can blend the whites and yolks for better results later on if you do want to freeze eggs.
Don’t panic! We’ve still got the top guidance on storing foods safely.
Doors are the warmest part of the fridge and should be reserved for foods that are most resistant to spoiling. Keep condiments, juices, and other foods that can stand up to temperature fluctuations here.
(And remember that ketchup isn’t eternal — even condiments have a shelf life).
Since fridge doors can get warm, particularly when they’re opened regularly, eggs and dairy shouldn’t go here, even if you guzzle milk straight from the carton all the livelong day.
If you’ve got eggs that desperately need using, we found 27 amazing things to do with them.
The upper shelves of the fridge have the most consistent temperatures, while the lower shelves are coldest.
One pro strategy they use in restaurant kitchens is to place foods that do not need cooking near the top of the fridge.
This includes leftovers, drinks, and ready-to-eat foods like tortillas, hummus, and deli meats. You can also keep herbs fresh by placing them upright in a vase or jar with water and loosely covering it with a plastic bag.
You’ll also want to keep berries up here for easy access (see the crisper section for more berry useful info).
If you love blueberries as much as we do, here are 56 ways to use them (if you don’t feel like storing them).
The lower shelves are your best bet for raw meat, eggs, seafood, and other dairy. They need to be stored at the coldest temperatures.
To prevent bacteria spreading from raw meat to other areas, assign a particular section of the fridge as your meat locker. This is now for meat and nothing else. No vegetable shall pass these boundaries.
Keep meat in its original packaging, and place it on a plate or in an improvised bin that receives regular cleaning.
Overall: Don’t crowd your shelves too much. Unlike the freezer, the fridge shouldn’t be totally packed. Cold air needs to flow here. If it can’t, you’ll get inconsistent temperatures with pockets of heat and warmth — no-nos when it comes to preserving food.
(Lukewarm yogurt, anyone? Yeeeeeeah, didn’t think so. Why not try this fresh yogurt recipe?)
The purpose of crisper drawers is to maintain moist conditions that help preserve fruits and vegetables. But don’t make the mistake of jumbling all your produce together in a fruit and veg free-for-all — there’s a method to the madness.
Many fruits, including apples, peaches, plums, pears, and cantaloupes, produce ethylene, a chemical that helps them to ripen.
Unfortunately, this can also promote ripening in other plants, causing vegetables to go yellow, limp, or even sprout. You know how they say a bad apple ruins the batch? This is why.
For this reason, keep veggies in one drawer and fruits in another.
It goes without say that you should wash fruits and veggies before eating them. However, too much moisture can cause foods to flip from ripe to rotten before you can get your antioxidants on. And that helps no one.
The goal is to wash fruits and veggies when it’s convenient, but not so far in advance that they’re likely to spoil before you eat them.
When washing fruits, remove extra moisture by draining them in a colander, blotting them with paper towel, or using a salad spinner.
Berries are particularly fragile, so handle them with care and gobble them within a day or 2 of washing. (Storing them on the top shelf of thfridge will help with that.)
Once you’ve given your grub a wash, put any greens and herbs in a plastic bag or container with a square of paper towel to soak up excess moisture and everything else in clean (and preferably clear) containers.
Put the containers back in the crisper for longer-term storage or on the top shelf where you’re more likely to see them and eat them up quickly (om nom nom nom).
On top of the fridge
If you’ve been using the top of your fridge like a little food attic, stacking bottles of Merlot or loaves of bread up there, stop. Just stop.
Even if your kitchen is tiny and that space feels super convenient, it’s not a smart idea. To regulate cold temps inside, the fridge’s condenser coil pumps warm air out, and that heat rises around the appliance’s cabinet.
Result: It actually gets pretty warm up top. Heat is Kryptonite to wine. And it’ll make bread mold faster. (We’d rather get our spores from blue cheese. Amirite?)
The best use of this space? Store appliances, supplies like paper towels, or a stack of cookbooks. It doesn’t matter if they get warm.
One of the tougher questions is figuring out whether something goes in the fridge in the first place. Certain foods don’t belong in the fridge. Tomatoes, for example, will turn mealy and odorless in the fridge — keep them comfy at room temperature. They’ll be fine.
Onions, squash, and potatoes do best in a cooler environment with low moisture, so store them in a dark cupboard or other place outside of the fridge.
Avocados and many fruits are just fine being left on the counter to ripen, but also can go in the fridge to slow the process down if you need them to hold their proverbial horses.
Herbs can be kept in the fridge or in a vase on the countertop if they’ll be used with a few days.
Then there’s the gray zone: foods that can be refrigerated to maintain maximum freshness and quality but don’t have to be refrigerated if you use them up relatively quickly.
For example, nuts, nut flours, and many nut butters are just fine to store in the cupboard. However, refrigeration will help to keep those yummy natural oils intact and keep nut butters from separating.
Refrigerate these items if your house is warm or if you won’t be using these products up within a few weeks (or both).
Likewise, whole-grain flours (which contain healthy oils and nutrients) and oils low in saturated fat, such as canola oil, safflower oil, and olive oil. will last longer if you store them in the fridge away from warm temperatures.
But again, if you’re making almond-meal muffins every week, storing that flour at room temp is just fine.
If you find that these products are laying around your kitchen for a long time, putting them in the center or upper shelves of your fridge (or even freezing flours) will help prevent the loss of flavors.
Or just make a metric f*ck-ton of stuff that uses almond flour.
Some of these tips are practical hacks. Others are psychological tricks to make sure you eat healthy foods first.
Either way, using your fridge to its fullest capacity can make cooking fun and stress-free (because you’ll know where everything is) and help you make the most of this often energy-heavy appliance.
After all, you’re paying the electricity bill for it anyway — why not get the most out of it?
If you’re more of a freezer-head than a fridge enthusiast, we’ve got the perfect array of freezer meals for you to try — and how to store them so they last.