It’s pretty evident that a refrigerator is known best for keeping food, drinks and condiments cool. But there’s actually more to them than just a box with shelves and bins. From storage techniques to accurate temperature settings, there are a few key things to know when housing your family’s food. Here are the tips you’ll want to take note of for keeping food fresh, nutrient dense and safe!
Start here. A basic map of the refrigerator. A typical refrigerator has several compartments. Understanding how each area regulates temperature will help you to better choose where to store food. The FDA recommends keeping a refrigerator temperature at or below 40 degrees fahrenheit to ensure food safety. Most refrigerators come with a built in thermometer but if you don’t see one or are feeling unsure they can be found almost anywhere. Check out this one from Target!
Okay, back to the compartments. Let’s break it down into four simple units...
1. Upper Shelves
Temperature- Most consistent
What to Store- Leftovers, ready to eat meals, deli meat, butter, soft cheeses and drinks
2. Lower Shelves
Temperature- The coolest
What to Store- Meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs.
3. Sealed Drawers
Temperature- Constant and in some newer models can even be regulated
What to Store- Meat, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables and herbs. **Whether you store meat on a lower shelf or in a sealed drawer be sure to keep it separate from fruits and vegetables to avoid cross contamination.
Temperature- Warmest and most susceptible to temperature fluctuations
What to Store- Non perishable items such as condiments, jams and dressings.
Organization is key. A well organized refrigerator is a vital piece to preventing bacteria from infiltrating your food. Organizing food after a grocery haul at times may be easier said than done. However, it’s an important habit to get into as there is the potential to make you and your family ill if not (eh-um… raw meat juices. eew). Here are a few storage tips for some of the most popular refrigerated food categories.
Always place cooked and ready to eat items on the top shelf. And if not on your highest shelf, always place cooked items higher than raw food to avoid potential drippings and contamination.
Leftovers should be stored in airtight containers as much as possible. This is important as it can prevent odors from getting into the rest of the fridge and contaminating other foods.
If storing more than one leftover item at a time, break them up into smaller containers rather than storing them together in one. While most bacteria are killed during the cooking process, some may still remain. By breaking things down it will help to cool the food more quickly lessening the potential for bacteria to grow.
Leave space between storing leftovers. This will allow them to cool down properly and maintain proper airflow throughout the refrigerator. Always place prepared foods into the fridge ASAP. A good rule of thumb to follow is to never leave food items on the counter for longer than two hours.
Meat, Fish and Poultry
When not stored properly, raw meat, fish and poultry are known to cause some of the greatest hazards to one’s health. If meat isn’t used within a few days it needs to be placed in a freezer bag with as much air removed as possible, and placed in the freezer provided a temperature below 40 degrees fahrenheit. If you’re tired of using freezer bags we suggest a vacuum sealer for something new!
Store raw meat, poultry and fish in the following top-to-bottom order: whole fish, whole cuts of beef and pork, ground meats and whole and ground poultry. Before storing, food needs to be wrapped and sealed properly. If food must be removed from its original package, put it in a clean, sanitized container and cover. Always label the container with the name of the food and the original use-by or expiration date.
Store meat in a designated space in your refrigerator separate from prepared and ready to eat food. If items cannot be stored separately, store them below prepared ready to eat food. It can also be helpful to store meat with a plate underneath - especially when dethawing!
Always trust your senses and pay close attention to “sell by” or “use by” dates to make sure you are using the meat when fresh. Keep in mind the meat color. It should have a pleasing bright color (not gray) and should feel moist to the touch (not tacky or dry). Lastly, trust your nose… oftentimes when meat is spoiling it will have a strong odor. So go ahead, give it a sniff!
Dairy + Eggs
Keep dairy products such as milk, cottage, cheese and yogurt inside their original wrappings when unpacking groceries. No need to remove them from their original packaging. However, once an item has been opened or removed from its packaging, do not return it to the fridge. Use plastic wrap or an airtight container to seal it back up instead!
When storing hard cheeses keep them in their original packaging until ready to use. Once the cheese has been opened it is best to store in wax paper, loose plastic or foil. Cheese needs to breathe so don’t worry about wrapping too tightly!
A popular place to store milk is in the refrigerator door but this is the wrong place for it. By storing milk in the door it will be more susceptible to warm air and temperature changes. Instead, store milk at the back of a shelf in the lower portion of the fridge.
Keep eggs in their original carton in the middle section of your refrigerator. The temperature will be just right... not too hot and not too cool! Keeping your eggs in a carton will prevent them from absorbing strong odors and flavors and the “best before date” will always be visible which will guarantee food safeness.
So what about hard boiled eggs? Store HBE’s in a sealed container. If the eggs have already been peeled, keep them moist by covering the bottom and top of your container with a damp paper towel for up to seven days.
** For more information about eggs check out a fun and easy to read site that we like, here!
Fruit, Veggies and Herbs
It is best to store fruit, veggies and herbs in an enclosed drawer. Mixing fruits and veggies in the same drawer is okay but be aware as some are known to give off a gas called ethylene*. Because of the natural occurring process caused by ethylene gas it is best to keep similar foods together to prevent premature spoilage. For example, don’t mix broccoli with oranges or apples with carrots. For a more specific rundown of the most ethylene producing foods check out this list.
Use breathable bags to store fruits and veggies like these. This will allow them to breathe and prolong the lifespan until you’re ready to eat!
Although it’s tempting, avoid washing produce before storing since moisture is the death of vegetables. It can even be helpful to place a paper towel around the food itself or laid on the bottom of a drawer to capture any excess moisture.
If you choose to forego a drawer, always place herbs towards the front of a shelf as there is potential for them to freeze in the back. The temperature at the very back tends to be cooler.
Sliced fruits and vegetables are great to have on hand and are an especially favorite snack for kids! Most fruits will last up to 5 days. Just be sure to store them in an airtight container and always refrigerate cut produce.
Onions. When slicing and dicing ahead store them sealed and far away from other foods in your fridge. The smell and flavor of raw onions can easily permeate throughout your fridge so seal those fragrant smellies up tight!
** Learn more about ethylene at Gardening Know How, here!
Bread and Pasta. It is not necessary to refrigerate bread so here are a few storage tips instead!
A fresh loaf is best when eaten in two to three days.
Always store bread in a paper bag instead of plastic. A plastic bag will encourage mold growth resulting in the bread to go bad sooner.
If your desire is to preserve a loaf of bread or buns, it is best to freeze over refrigerating.
Never place bread on the top of your refrigerator. The heat from the fridge will cause paper bagged bread to dry out and plastic bagged bread to mold faster.
If you make fresh pasta, it should be refrigerated. However, when storing dried pasta it is not necessary. It can be placed in an airtight container in the pantry.
Like dried pasta, most breads don’t need to be refrigerated but the cooler environment can help prevent them from developing mold. Always be sure to check packaging for specific storing directions.
Wine and Beer
Too warm or too cool temps are a sure way to spoil wine so it is recommended to store wine in a wine fridge and not a regular fridge. But, if you don’t have one just yet the ideal location to store your wine would be in the middle of the fridge. A good rule of thumb is that regardless of wine label or type, wine should never be kept below 25 degrees fahrenheit.
Like we mentioned above, it is not recommended to store wine for any length of time in standard refrigerators - even white and sparkling wines. Instead, look for a location in your home that has the best conditions available such as no direct sunlight, a cool and stable temperature when possible and a low vibration (such as on top of a refrigerator).
An opened bottle of wine can last 3-5 days in a refrigerator. The key to extending the shelf life of an opened bottle is to re-cork it promptly and tightly! Or, try a wine vacuum pump. This enables you to suck air out of an open bottle which creates a nearly airtight seal. We like the Le Creuset Champagne Stopper from Williams Sonoma.
Time to talk beer… And we have good news! Your refrigerator is the best place to avoid natural light and stash your beer! Avoiding natural light is beneficial to prevent skunking. A beer becomes “skunked” when it has been exposed to light for a period of time. And while it’s not dangerous, it’s pretty disgusting to both smell and taste. The best way to avoid skunking is to buy beer in cans which can shield light entirely. But, if you prefer sipping out of a bottle just make sure it’s in a brown glass.
The cooler your beer, the longer it will stay fresh. The best spot to store your beer will be on the top shelf as it can stand temperature swings and will be accessible for quick grabbing!
When in doubt, check it out. Here is a credible source for food recalls, food safety charts and more!