It’s a statistic that can’t be repeated often enough: Americans end up throwing away nearly half of our food, translating to $165 billion in groceries and farmers market haul at the bottom of the garbage can. That food waste is also the largest component of solid waste in U.S. municipal dumps.
Shopping habits can impact this rampant waste, but there’s plenty you can do once you bring your groceries home too. Remember how promising those wild blueberries looked, and your grand plans for that organic chicken? You don’t want them to go bad on you. Reorganizing the fridge in the most effective way possible could mean fewer tossed containers of Greek yogurt, which means saved money (and better breakfasts).
Here’s how restaurants do it: Place food in the fridge based on how thoroughly it needs to be cooked before it’s consumed. Foods that require no cooking can go on the top shelves, where it’s warmest. Then work your way down, with foods that need to be cooked to the highest temperature at the cold bottom (we’re looking at you, free-range bird).
It couldn’t hurt to keep a thermometer in your fridge to maintain an ideal temperature of about 37 degrees F, and to make sure the mercury doesn’t climb above 40 degrees F, at which point bacteria can grow like crazy. Space items out, too, so the cold air can circulate and do its job of keeping food fresh and ready for feasting.
Now, on to the specifics, area by area:
This is the warmest part of the fridge, where the temperature can be a degree or two balmier than the main compartment, so it’s not a good home for anything highly perishable. (Ignore those adorable little egg cups, for starters.) Use the door’s shelves for the collection of condiments you’ve amassed while perfecting your pad thai and tikka masala. Pasteurized orange juice can go here too. Butter doesn’t need to be kept super-cold and can go right where your fridge wants you to put it—in the covered dairy compartment. (You can also keep soft cheeses, such as brie, in there.)
This is the second-warmest area of the fridge. Put soft drinks, yogurt, leftovers, and anything ready-to-eat—such as deli meats and cheese—up here.
If you have one, this can be the designated home for your aged Gouda, where it’s relatively warm. (Cheese, incidentally, can find many happy homes in the fridge. You can also keep it in the drawers at the bottom, if you tend to eat more Great Hill Blue than broccoli.)
Things are starting to get colder. Because we Americans need to refrigerate our eggs, this is where they should go, where the temperature is most consistent. The milk also goes here.
Keep raw meat and seafood here, in their original packaging, and toward the back, where it’s coldest. If you buy a lot of meat and are concerned about drippy raw chicken juices contaminating fruits and vegetables in the drawers below (a valid worry), keep a separate plastic bin on this shelf devoted to uncooked meat. Bonus: easier cleanup if things do get messy.
Here’s where things get a little bit complicated. Fruits and vegetables belong here, where refrigerator humidity levels are highest. But different produce requires different levels of moisture, and certain fruits emit ethylene, a gas that accelerates rotting in vegetables.
Your best bet is to make like the Offspring and keep ’em separated. Keep fruit in the lowest-humidity drawer, often marked “Crisper,” with the vent open, which allows more air to come in. Vegetables can tolerate more humidity. Keep the vent on this drawer closed, which keeps air from circulating and holds moisture in.