How to Organize Your Refrigerator

Stop food waste and save thousands by optimizing the fridge for maximum efficiency.

By Kristen Sturt

Odds are, you’re no stranger to food waste; the average American family throws out 25 percent of the food it buys, much of it spoiled. Heck, one glance at your own fridge might reveal a carton of expired milk and mustard dating back to the Reagan administration.

Click here to view the chart!But, get this: That waste is costing you, a lot. According to a 2012 study by the National Resources Defense Council, spoiled and unused food can run a family of four up to $2,275 per year. One huge contributor to that deficit: a disorganized refrigerator—because when you can't find your food, you can't use it.

So, how can you best arrange your fridge to prevent food waste? We spoke to Whirlpool’s Home Cleaning Consumer Advocate, Lucinda M. Ottusch, to get the lowdown. Read on for tips about keeping your most important appliance up to snuff, and saving tons of cash in the process.

Storage and Organization

While many of us have an organization system for our fridge, it’s frequently not the right one. We don’t group our foods correctly, or we don’t store them in the right places. Next time you re-org your refridge, use this cheat sheet:

  • Meat: Keep your chicken, beef, and pork, “toward the bottom of the refrigerator, since this is the coldest part in the appliance,” says Ottusch. Bonus: If your steak leaks, it doesn’t do it all over the rest of your food.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Produce goes in designated crisper drawers or on a chilly lower shelf. Veggies need some humidity while fruit prefers a dryer environment, so keep them in separate compartments to prevent decay.
  • Dairy and eggs: With the exception of milk, group dairy items like eggs, cheese, and butter together. They don’t need extreme cold, so the door, top shelf, or dairy compartment make good homes. To avoid spoilage, keep the expiration dates pointed forward.
  • Condiments: “Condiments and dressings are perfect for the door,” says Ottusch, “as these items can tolerate the warm exposure.” Some, like ketchup and mustard, can even live outside the fridge for up to a month.
  • Leftovers: These go on the left-hand side at eye level, so you remember to eat them. Label what you can, and chuck whatever goes unused after a few days.
  • Beverages: Many refrigerators have in-door beverage storage,” which is ideal for most drinks. If there’s no room, keep liquids at eye level in a prominent place – especially milk, which expires faster than juice or soda.
  • Deli meats and cheeses: Have a deli drawer? Use it, says Ottusch: “Deli drawers control temperature and humidity.” Don’t have one? Store cold cuts where it’s coldest, in the bottom back of your fridge.

While placement is important, Ottusch’s No. 1 tip is putting like with like: “Group similar items together, such as proteins or dairy,” she says. You’ll not only find everything easier, you’ll avoid losing items to your fridge’s black hole.

Need more space? Citrus fruits, apples, bananas, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, winter squash, bread, garlic, and even some condiments don’t need to be refrigerated. Learn more about what stays and what goes in "Refrigerate This, Not That."

Cleaning and Maintenance

Keeping your fridge clean and scentless is good for organization, not to mention your health. Spills should be wiped up immediately to avoid contamination, especially if they involve meat juices. As for regular scrubbing, “Clean both the freezer and refrigerator sections about once a month to avoid buildup of odors,” suggests Ottusch. Placing an open box of baking soda in the back of your appliance will help with the aroma issue, as well.

One area most fridge owners forget is the water and ice dispenser. Ottusch warns, “Be sure to change your refrigerator water filter at least every six months.” Otherwise, mold and mildew will build up. And that’s never a good thing.

Finally, make sure to clean the coils, located behind or underneath your fridge. “Dirty coils can block the air exchange or reduce air exchange making the fridge work harder, which could shorten its life span and reduce its efficiency,” says Ottusch.

Buying a New Fridge?

For optimal efficiency, look for these three things:

  1. Energy Star-qualified refrigerators. “They save on water and energy while helping reduce your family's impact on the environment”
  2. Adjustable shelving. These allow you to customize your refrigerator to best suit your changing needs.
  3. Transparent drawers and drawers. It’s a no brainer—being able to see your food is crucial to remembering to use it.

While organizing your refrigerator may not solve all your food waste problems—consolidating your shopping list is another must-do—it goes a long way towards fixing the situation. And if that saves you a few thousand dollars, all the better.

 

Refrigerator Organization Chart

Click here for a printer-friendly version of this chart! »

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