We eat more fresh and cold foods in the summertime, so it helps to have an orderly refrigerator, making it easy to see what you’ve got and to restock as necessary without having to push, pile and juggle the contents.
Think of your refrigerator as a closet for food. Many of the same organizing parameters apply. It should be clean, you should use everything in it regularly, and it should only store items it was designed to store, so if you’re keeping batteries and nail polish in the “fridge” or dead pets in the freezer, it’s time to rethink it.
Like a closet, when you decide to clean and organize it is best to empty everything out. Since food is perishable, you will want to tackle this before you buy groceries, when your refrigerator and freezer are on the empty side.
Empty the contents and work quickly. Have your refrigerator manual on hand (I hope you have it filed under “Manuals, Kitchen”) or download a copy in case getting the drawers and shelves dismantled for cleaning is tricky. Most refrigerators these days are designed with shelves and drawers that are easily removed for this purpose. Be sure to lift out any glass pieces and wipe them down.
After everything is spic and span, you can reassemble and begin to organize the food items. Obviously, this is the time to toss anything that looks suspect (limp, moldy, crusty, etc.) or anything that you know is going to remain uneaten.
Things that should be stored on the refrigerator doors are small items that can get lost or quickly disorganized if left on the larger shelves, for example, condiments and medicines that need to be refrigerated. I also store small bags of things like flax seeds, goji berries, cacao nibs and other items that are easier to keep organized in a door bin.
The center is the coldest part of the refrigerator, and the doors are the warmest, so keep that in mind when storing perishables. Drawers and bins are often marked for the food items that are most appropriate to preserve them, such as Meats & Cheeses or Fruits & Vegetables. For the rest of the shelves, adjust the heights to fit the types of items you tend to stock.
There is no rule that says you can’t do away with a shelf or two completely. I store our extra refrigerator shelves in the garage. Since we eat so much fresh produce, we need more space for bulky bags of leaves or large fruits such as watermelon and papaya and not so much shelf space for packaged foods. Take control of your appliances and make them work for you.
Another thing I remove, if a client will let me, are the plastic egg holders and butter dishes that come with the refrigerator. Who really uses those?
On the shelves, use clear, stackable containers for leftovers. You could label these and date them, but seriously, if you forget when you last ate lasagna, you are not eating your leftovers quickly enough. Save labeling for the freezer.
The air needs to circulate in a refrigerator, so there needs to be space, but there also needs to be enough food to “hold” the cold. Maintain a happy medium between overstuffed and empty, again, just like a clothes closet.