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!

How to store food in a refrigerator - fridge door open with food in side

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.

How to store food in a refrigerator - herbs flat on a table

Dairy

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.

How to store food in a refrigerator - milk bottle on table

Meat/fish/poultry

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.

How to store food in a refrigerator - raw chicken breast in plate

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:

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Kiwis
  • Melons
  • Nectarines
  • Passionfruit
  • Pears

Ethylene-sensitive vegetables include:

  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach

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.

How to store food in a refrigerator - salad leaves

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:

Food:

  • Butter
  • Jam
  • Sauces

Drinks:

  • Alcohol
  • Fizzy drinks
  • Fruit juices
  • Water

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.

How to store food in a refrigerator - juice in glass jar

Summary

  • 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!

How to store food in a refrigerator - simple to do list

Sources

Good Housekeeping.com, 2020. How To Organise Your Fridge. [online] Good Housekeeping. Available at: [Accessed 24 May 2020].Kader, A. Postharvest Technology of Horticulture Crops. California Agriculture and Natural Resources (2011), 262 

Safefood.eu. 2020. Safefood | Storing Food Safely | Fridge Faqs. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 May 2020]. 

Thomann, L., 2016. Complete Guide To Storing Food In The Fridge. [online] Life Storage Blog. Available at: [Accessed 24 May 2020].

Web.extension.illinois.edu. 2020. Storing Meat In Your Refrigerator – Meat Safety For The Consumer – University Of Illinois Extension. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 May 2020].

Categories: Blogs

12 Comments

Jordan · 24/05/2020 at 5:38 PM

Holy Moly, with all honesty … I can not tell you how much I probably needed to read that haha! It was great !! Keep up the great Work!

    Sharon · 25/05/2020 at 5:37 PM

    Hi Jordan,

    That’s great to here, I love helping people so I’m hoping the article helps!

    If you’ve any questions, do let me know.

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

Robert · 24/05/2020 at 7:13 PM

Sharon,
This is well-researched and thorough! Thank you for this information. I knew that food in the fridge could be a problem if not stored properly. I once put almost a whole pan of lasagna in the fridge (the bottom was still hot) over the cheese drawer and it melted my cheese. It was a mess. I appreciated this great article!

    Sharon · 25/05/2020 at 5:38 PM

    Hi Robert,

    Thanks so much, I really appreciate it. Wow I bet you learned from that experience!

    Thanks for sharing and commenting on the post.
    Sharon

Rania Masaeed · 25/05/2020 at 5:56 PM

Hi Sharon,
This is a very useful article which is full of useful ideas. I know some of these ideas but I learn from the others. I like this idea a lot: Top shelf: Ready-to-eat foods, herbs, cooked foods and leftovers
Middle shelf: Dairy products and eggs. Bottom shelf: Raw meat, fish, and poultry.
This idea is new for me, I always put things in any empty space without looking for their kind. I always believe that every day we learn new things
Have a great day
Rania

    Sharon · 25/05/2020 at 7:39 PM

    Hi Rania,

    You’re not alone there. It’s not something that people are exactly trained on, it just becomes tacit knowledge. I sometimes think they should have a lifestyle class in school or a cheat sheet to all these nuggets of information.

    Hope the post was of use anyway!
    Sharon

Greg · 25/05/2020 at 6:03 PM

Great advice👍
Thank you for making this easy to follow check list. I have had a lot of restaurant experience and learning the guidelines from this helped me to discover how to store foods, but I didn’t realize I was doing it. I checked my fridge to your list and was surprised that I was just programmed to do it this way.
Everyone should know this information and it is great that you took the lead to teach it.

    Sharon · 25/05/2020 at 7:40 PM

    Hi Greg,

    Glad the post was of value to you! That is so true, most people only know about it if they bother to look it up or if they’re trained on it, which is slightly concerning.

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

Dustin Johnson · 25/05/2020 at 6:20 PM

I really enjoyed this article. We are always storing food and unfortunately a lot of it goes to waste. I don’t like to waste food so thanks for this valuable information. We will be making some changes on our storage approach and I will be on the lookout for more post like this.

    Sharon · 25/05/2020 at 7:41 PM

    Hi there,

    That’s definitely the case for many people, especially when you look at the amount of food waste that is being generated by people. Hopefully you’ll make some waste reductions and even some money savings along the way.

    Sharon

Annie · 25/05/2020 at 7:37 PM

Haha, “what really goes in that bottom drawer?” That is an age old question. I was, however, wondering why some vegetables (i.e. broccoli, cucumbers) tend to go suddenly bad when I put them in the bottom drawer. I rarely ever put food like apples in there.

Looks like it high to do do an overhaul of the fridge again, I’m sure I’m doing everything exactly wrong lol.

Thanks for the great article. It’s well written too!

    Sharon · 25/05/2020 at 7:42 PM

    Hi Annie,

    Well now you know it’s down to the gas that’s released – try segregating your vegetables from the gas-emitting foods and it might help!

    Thanks for your comment and compliments!
    Sharon

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