I recently noticed that we were wasting food quite often because of the disorganization of our refrigerator. I talked it over with Mr. Ivy, who just happens to be a restaurant manager and was a kitchen manager for many years and he said, “You really ought to organize the refrigerator the way we do at work.” So, I asked him for some tips and now I share them with you, darling Home Eccers.
Know your refrigerator’s zones.
A refrigerator is broken up (usually) into 5 sections- top shelf, middle shelf, bottom shelf, drawers, and door.
Ideally the things you want to have in your door are items that are not as important for them to stay at the 40 degrees your refrigerator should be at. Condiments like ketchup, mustard, pickles, etc. can be in the door area safely because refrigeration helps them stay fresh longer, but it is not totally required. These condiments have a high content of vinegar in them, and bacteria grows far more slowly in vinegar based items than it does in other items, like ranch dressing or mayonnaise, which should be kept in the actual refrigerator part. Another item you can keep in the door is butter, again refrigeration helps but is not totally required. One thing that you should never keep in your door although many refrigerators have a section in the door for them is eggs. Eggs go bad much more quickly in the door than in their original packaging which is designed to help keep the eggs fresh.
And, as anyone who has seen my pictures of my refrigerator knows, it’s also a good place to keep alcohol, which doesn’t go bad, but is tastier when cold.
Now, let’s talk about the top shelf. Of course, it all depends on what kind of refrigerator you have and your eating habits, but generally, the items you want to keep on your top shelf are foods that are already cooked, like leftovers, or opened packages of things like deli meats.
Remember the FIFO rule.
FIFO- first in, first out- to organize. Oldest stuff goes toward the front, newest stuff goes toward the back. Keep some masking tape and a Sharpie right next to the refrigerator so you can put a date on your stuff. For leftovers, just put the date you put it in the refrigerator. For opened items, use the date you opened the item.
The reason you want to put these sorts of items on your top shelf is first of all, to give them visibility for when you or your kids are staring into the refrigerator, hungry. I personally like to stare into my refrigerator several times a day, since there’s nobody to yell at me about staring into the refrigerator and wasting electricity. Take that, mom! Another reason is because you want to keep these items from being below things you might defrost, like meat that could drip down onto your packaging. Take that, salmonella!
Now, let’s talk about the middle shelf. You should be keeping things here like milk, eggs, mayo, ranch, or any unopened packages that would normally go on your top shelf. What, your middle shelf won’t accommodate tall items like milk? No problem. Just about every refrigerator I have ever seen has adjustable shelves. Get in there and start adjusting. What, you don’t have adjustable shelves? Well, do the best you can.
Your bottom shelf should be considered your defrost shelf, it’s for items that could be potentially dangerous, like raw meats. Make sure when defrosting that you use something underneath like a sheet pan or even just a plate to catch any potential drips. This saves cleaning and also keeps potentially dangerous fluids from getting to anything else you might want to keep on your bottom shelf. Me, I like to keep soda cans there.
Drawers are for produce and fruits and stuff like that. Heather wrote a good post about what to keep in your refrigerator drawers and what the slidy thing is for, so go read that if you need to know what to do with your drawers.
Keep your fridge clean.
How can you keep your refrigerator all nice and clean like Mr. Ivy’s is at work? Well, first you need to clean as you go. Wipe up any spills immediately or as soon as you notice them.
Once a week, before doing any big grocery shopping go through your fridge.
Make sure everything in your refrigerator is still within date and isn’t growing a science project. Unless you are growing a science project in your refrigerator purposely, of course. While you’re in there, wipe down the shelves and give it a good “dusting.” Mr. Ivy sanitizes his walk-in refrigerator at work something like 3 times a day, but since we’re not running a restaurant, a good sanitizing cleaning once a month or so will suffice.
The key to keeping food waste down is to make a plan and stick to it.
Mr. Ivy pays close attention to the numbers in his restaurant so that ideally, he’s almost out of food when his truck comes. How can we translate that to the home cook? By making a meal plan and doing your best to stick with it. Either cook so you have no or very few leftovers, or plan how you are going to use those leftovers in advance.
Have some flexibility in the plan, so if you really, really, REALLY don’t feel like cooking, you have something easy to pull out so you don’t break down and go to the restaurant. Of course, Mr. Ivy would really like to see you in his restaurant, so plan to come visit him soon. (He totally made me say that.)
If you plan carefully and keep organized, it’s fairly easy to reduce food waste. It also helps if you have a teenager that’ll eat anything in the house. I rent mine out very inexpensively, in case you need one.
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