We’ve got a thing for spring cleaning, especially when it comes to sorting through all that kitchen clutter. (There’s always that one drawer…) This month we’re taking on the refrigerator, shelf by shelf, bin by bin. Keeping the fridge tidy and organized makes for finding ingredients with ease, and ensures maximum enjoyment of those seasonal fruits and veggies that are already hitting shelves.
To give your fridge a really good cleaning, first, remove everything. We mean everything. It sounds daunting, but trust us, you’ll be happy you did. Dilute a little bit of dish soap with some warm water in a bowl, wet a single-use towel, and wipe down a section of the fridge at a time. Throw away each towel after use. Use some baking soda or vinegar to scrub stubborn spots.
After cleaning, sanitize your fridge with a food grade sanitizer spray and single-use towels. (Avoid using household cleansers that may have chemicals that don’t belong with your food, and look for sprays that say “disinfects food contact surfaces.”)
Be sure to check expiration dates on jarred, canned, and bottled items and discard anything that is past its date. It’s also a good idea to check the temperature of your fridge to ensure the proper setting, optimally around 38F.
The top shelf is where fridge temps usually remain the most stable, so we’ve made it home to dairy products like milk, cream, and yogurt. We also keep plenty of refreshing beverages at arm’s reach like any juice, seltzer, and water pitcher.
The middle shelf is the hub of the fridge. Here we like to store everyday condiments, like dips and spreads that see a lot of action—mayo, ketchup, vinegars, maple syrup, along with any hummus, salsa, or pesto. You’ll also find our favorite morning jams and spreads clustered here, though you can keep a few of these on the fridge door.
The middle shelf is also home to cut up veggies, sliced fruits, and pretty much any ready-to-eat food. Keep leftovers here, too, so you’ll know to eat them sooner rather than later. To that end, use glass containers, which make it easy to spot what’s inside. Dairy items like yogurt and sour cream snag some space on our middle shelf, too, along with boxed greens like baby spinach or arugula. Consider making some room for more temperamental fresh fruits like berries that you’ll want to enjoy within a few days of purchasing.
Often the coolest part of the fridge, the bottom shelf is a good place to store uncooked meat, poultry, and fish. Keep these in their original paper or plastic wrapping. Rather than storing them directly on the shelf, place them first on a plate or dish that will catch any occasional leakage. Store your eggs on the bottom shelf where it’s nice and cool; up to you on the egg tray or keeping them in the carton.
Meat + cheese bins
The shallow bins usually situated just below the bottom shelf are an ideal spot for, um, meat and cheese. Deli meats, cooked sausages, and cured meats stack nicely, and just remember that you’ve opened a package, wrap leftovers tightly in plastic wrap to maximize shelf life. Cheeses should also be wrapped tightly in plastic and stored together in a separate bin.
The crisper bins are those drawers at the very bottom of the fridge. They have adjustable humidity settings that either trap in the air and moisture (high humidity) or open the airflow (low humidity).
As a general rule of thumb, vegetables benefit from high humidity—it helps them retain their moisture and freshness. To keep veggies perky and fresh, put them in a loose plastic bag wrapped in a damp paper towel and then store in a crisper bin set to high humidity. This goes for carrots, cucumbers, celery, and peppers, as well as leafy greens and herbs like parsley and cilantro. Potatoes, onions, and garlic are the exception to the rule here—they’ll do better in low humidity and moisture, which is why many folks store them outside of the fridge (and tomatoes, too).
On the other hand, most fruits benefit from low humidity. You’ll get way more out of your lemons, limes, oranges, apples, pears, and stone fruits this way. We also like to line the drawer with a paper towel to absorb any excess moisture.
The door is the warmest spot in the fridge and the ideal location for items that can tolerate temperature fluctuations. Soy sauce, hot sauce, mustards, marinades, and flavored oils will be at home here, as will jams and fruit spreads that didn’t make the middle shelf cut. Other flavor boosters that sit well on the door are olives, capers, and cornichons. Non-dairy drinks also do well on the door, whether it’s carbonated water, juice, beer, or wine. And finally, although butter is dairy, it is perfectly fine to keep it in the butter compartment on the door.
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