Learning how to store food in a refrigerator is an invaluable life skill that everyone should know, especially now with the surge in cooking at home, and let’s not forget those who batch cook or engage in meal prepping to follow a food plan. Proper fridge organisation can be the difference between developing a food borne illness and keeping you and your family healthy. It is also influential in preventing cross-contamination, minimising food spoilage and extending the life of your food.
Did you know? Studies have demonstrated that up to 80% of food poisoning occurrences have arisen from poor food practices in the home.
In this article, you’ll discover the top tips on how and where to store food in your fridge, learn what foods belong on the refrigerator door and also find out what really belongs in the bottom drawers of your fridge. By the end of this post, you’ll have an organised fridge with food stored in the areas that promote freshness and keeps food spoilage and cross-contamination at bay. Who really wants to be sick from pathogenic bacteria or have to suffer the ordeal of cleaning up or throwing out food that has expired unnecessary? If your answer is no to these questions, then read on to find out how compliant your fridge storage is!
Ready-to-eat food and leftovers
The top shelves tend to have the most consistent temperature. For that reason, any foods which have been prepared in advance belong on the top shelf, this includes pre-made salads, cooked meat, fish or poultry, e.g. deli meat slices. Herbs are also suited to the top shelf, but don’t push them too far to the back as it may be too cold for them. Leftovers should also be stored on the top shelf, e.g. takeaway meals, batch-cooked meals. For best results, store these foods in sealed containers.
One of the benefits of storing leftovers and ready-to-eat foods on the top shelf is that they’re close to eye level, so you’ll be more likely to eat them before they go off, instead of forgetting them if they were on a lower shelf.
A common trend observed in many household fridges is the tendency to store milk on the fridge door. Since milk is a perishable food item, it’s unwise to store it on the door as this area is prone to unstable temperatures when people open and close the fridge. The fridge door is also often warmer than the other compartments, and these two factors provide optimal conditions for milk to sour more rapidly. Ideally, it should be stored on the middle shelf.
In fact, all dairy products are best suited to be stored on the middle shelf. This includes cream, yoghurt, cheese. It’s also a bonus from an organisation perspective, as you don’t have to go routing around trying to find the couple of loose cheese slices you had put in there for your lunch.
Butter is often considered controversial in terms of where it should be stored. Some people argue that it should be stored on the shelf along with the rest of the dairy. You then have the army of people who refuse to even store it in the fridge! It can, however, be the exception to the dairy storage rules above; most people prefer their butter on the softer side anyway as it’s easier to spread. This makes it suited for the fridge door. Either way, it’s generally well-preserved and can last weeks, if not months in the fridge before going rancid.
Raw meat, fish and poultry are a type of food that pose one of the greatest risks in terms of food poisoning and cross-contamination. Merely storing these foods in any section of the fridge could promote harmful bacterial growth and facilitate cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods; this could ultimately result in someone developing a violent illness from pathogenic bacteria.
Consequently, these foods belong in the coldest part of the fridge, which is the bottom shelf. Store them in sealed containers to prevent any juices leaking out and to stop the foods touching off each other. This also applies when thawing these foods; use a container or a plate which won’t leak juices out. Another benefit of storing these items on the bottom shelf is that there is less food susceptible to cross-contaminated.
Cooked meats, on the other hand, belong in the upper shelves along with the ready-to-eat food and leftovers. This offers the greatest space between cooked and raw meat and prevents the potential for cross-contamination.
Despite many fridge manufacturers providing egg storage compartments on the fridge doors, eggs are not suited to environments where temperature fluctuations prevail. If you live in one of the countries where eggs should be refrigerated, then eggs should be stored on the middle shelf where temperatures are kept consistent.
Fruit and vegetables
The drawers located at the bottom of the fridge are the best area for fruit, vegetables and salads to be stored. Just bear in mind that some fruits and vegetable fall into the category of foods not to put in the fridge. There are also some fruits and vegetables which emit an ethylene gas that accelerates food spoilage in foods located nearby. As a general guide, the below fruits and vegetables should be stored separately.
Ethylene-producing fruits include:
Ethylene-sensitive vegetables include:
- Brussel sprouts
Moisture can develop on fruit and vegetables, which also increases the rate of food spoilage. Consequently, these foods should be stored in breathable or unsealed bags or containers. Avoid washing these foods before placing them in the fridge as it presents a greater potential for moisture to be present. Instead, you can store them with a paper towel to mop up any excess moisture. The packaging on these items will often advise on the best practices for storage, so look out for those instructions as well.
Drinks and non-perishable items
Non-perishable food and drinks are generally the more robust items capable of tackling the rugged terrains associated with the fridge door life. These food items are resilient to the transient temperatures alternating between warm and cold; also, let’s not forget the onslaught of bacteria attempting to utilise them as feeding grounds for growth. Such foods and drinks capable of surviving these conditions include:
- Fizzy drinks
- Fruit juices
We completely understand, however, if you don’t fancy risking your precious bottle of Pinot Grigio sitting precariously on the side of the fridge door.
Tip: Adopt a first in, first out (FIFO) strategy to food usage. A handy trick to achieve this involves rotating foods when you buy groceries. When restocking the fridge, rotate the newer food towards the back and bring the older food to the front. That way, the older foods typically get selected first and reduces the potential for food to expire.
- Top shelf: Ready-to-eat foods, herbs, cooked foods and leftovers
- Middle shelf: Dairy products and eggs
- Bottom shelf: Raw meat, fish and poultry
- Drawers: Fruit, vegetables and salads
- Fridge door: Non-perishable food items, condiments, sauces and drinks other than milk
- First in, first out strategies helps ensure that older food does not get eaten before the fresher food
These rudimentary guidelines and tips are quick and easy to implement. Furthermore, they could prevent you and your loved ones from developing food poisoning from inadequately stored food. So now that you’re equipped with the knowledge on how to properly store food in your refrigerator, how does your fridge compare to the guidelines above? Will you stop storing milk on the fridge door, or perhaps you had been doing that all along?
Why not bring your laptop or device with this article to the fridge and audit it against the above? Give yourself marks out of 5; 1 mark for each section of the fridge that you have organised correctly. Comment down below and let me know your score and feedback!
Good Housekeeping.com, 2020. How To Organise Your Fridge. [online] Good Housekeeping. Available at:
Safefood.eu. 2020. Safefood | Storing Food Safely | Fridge Faqs. [online] Available at:
Thomann, L., 2016. Complete Guide To Storing Food In The Fridge. [online] Life Storage Blog. Available at:
Web.extension.illinois.edu. 2020. Storing Meat In Your Refrigerator – Meat Safety For The Consumer – University Of Illinois Extension. [online] Available at: