This post was excerpted from an article written by Maria Janowiak and repurposed with permission from Greatist.
Tip: Your fridge isn’t just a closet for food—it’s a high-tech device that helps you store all of your favorite snacks, condiments, and meal-fixins in optimal conditions. Not only do refrigerators have different compartments that serve different purposes, they also have different temperature zones.
You can store a surprising number of other foods in the freezer for later use, such as tortillas, pasta sauce, and even eggs. (Note: You can freeze bread for up to three 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 things well organized, since this optimizes storage and also saves energy. Freeze foods in stackable plastic containers or in plastic freezer bags laid flat.
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.
One pro strategy from restaurant kitchens is to place foods that don’t need to be cooked near the top of the fridge. This includes leftovers, drinks, and ready-to-eat foods like tortillas, hummus, and deli meats.
Because cold air is heavier the lower shelves are your best bet for raw meat, eggs, seafood, and other dairy to be stored at the coldest temperatures. To prevent raw meat’s bacteria from spreading to other areas, assign a particular section of the fridge as your meat locker.
Overall: Don’t crowd your shelves too much. Unlike the freezer, the fridge shouldn’t be totally packed. Cold air needs to flow here, and if it can’t, you’ll get inconsistent temps with pockets of heat and warmth.
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. Many fruits, including apples, peaches, plums, pears, and cantaloupes, produce ethylene, a chemical that helps them to ripen. Unfortunately the ethylene produced can also promote ripening in other plants, causing vegetables to go yellow, limp, or even sprout. For this reason, keep veggies in one drawer and fruits in another.
On Top of the Fridge
If you’ve been using the top of your fridge like a food attic, stacking bottles of Merlot or loaves of bread up there, stop. (Heat rises from the fridge’s condenser.) Result: It gets pretty warm up top. Heat is Kryptonite to wine. And it’ll make bread mold faster. The best use of this space? Store appliances or supplies like paper towels or a stack of cookbooks.
To Fridge or Not to Fridge?
One of the tougher questions is figuring out if something goes in the fridge in the first place. Certain foods don’t belong in the fridge. Tomatoes will turn mealy and odorless in the fridge—keep them comfy at room temperature. 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 needed. Herbs can be kept in the fridge or in a vase on the countertop if they’ll be used with a few days.
With a fridge organized for maximal accessibility and food freshness, you’ll be inspired to reach in for ingredients to make healthy meals.