Not to ruin your lunch, but I have some startling statistics: The US wastes 30-40% of its food supply each year. Our annual food waste is worth $161 billion (206 billion pounds of ingredients). And the average American family spends $1,500 on food, every 12 months. Sorry. It’s no surprise that food waste is the number one material in our landfills. With food insecurity affecting 1 in 8 Americans, the thought of so much food being wasted is devastating. Thankfully, there’s good news: you can be a change maker. Together, we can make a dent in these stats. While there are many helpful ways to help, today’s article focuses on the heart of your home—the kitchen. We’re sharing how to organize your fridge to avoid food waste. Armed with these simple tips and tricks, your food will go where it belongs: In your belly, not the nearest landfill.
Featured image of Michelle Nash.
Organizing your fridge is key to fighting food waste
With grocery bills on the rise, your ingredients are more valuable than ever. Getting the best bang for your buck is key. All of our favorite fresh and vibrant spring produce is right around the corner, and there’s no better time to learn the right ways to preserve fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Like many of you, we’ve felt guilty and frustrated when we let fresh produce reach a state of wilting (or sometimes, rotting!). Too often, we come home from the farmers market and immediately throw everything in the fridge. A few days later, our lettuce was bathed in moisture. While we’ve made great strides in organizing our refrigerators (and our pantries), we’re on a 2022 mission to make our products last longer.
Ready to learn how to organize your refrigerator to avoid food waste? Let’s dig inside.
Why is it important to store food properly?
This goes without saying, but taking a little extra time to properly store your food — especially produce — is a game changer. It will not guarantee you never Throw away another bunch of herbs, but it will help your product extend its shelf life. Despite the annoyance of having to deal with a few minor chores after grocery shopping, your future self will thank you. For a long-lasting product, say sayonara to stack ingredients on shelves and drawers. In the long run, it will save you money, improve your health, reduce food waste, and make that organic food worthwhile. Here are tips on how to organize your fridge to prevent food waste — plus helpful products to help you make the most of leftovers, dairy, vegetables, fruits, herbs, and more.
Best fridge temperature to keep food fresh
Have you ever thought that your refrigerator might be too cold or too warm? According to the Food and Drug Administration, experts say the ideal refrigerator temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. These temperatures inhibit the growth of microorganisms such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria, which can cause foodborne illnesses. Part of learning how to organize your fridge to prevent food waste means getting the temperature right.
Should you wash your produce before refrigeration?
Some sources advise against washing vegetables before putting them in the refrigerator. Like, lettuce. I’ve found that as long as you don’t store it in a completely wet condition, it should be fine – and possibly even beneficial. ‘Cause you won’t get rid of all For example, the water after washing lettuce, the paper towel you wrap will be damp. Periodically, check for soft leaves and incubate them. For bunches of kale, spinach, and other greens, remove the elastics or packaging and treat them in the same way. At a minimum, wrap whole unwashed heads or bunches in paper towels (or clean tea towels) to help extend their shelf life in the refrigerator.
Note: Don’t wash your berries until you’re ready to eat them! Most berries should not be washed until they are used. Excess water can cause premature spoilage of antioxidant-rich fruits like blueberries and raspberries, and even gooseberries.
The best way to preserve fresh fruit
Let’s start with fresh fruit. Most fresh fruit — including apples, berries, kiwis, and grapes — will stay fresh longer if kept in your refrigerator drawer. For citrus do the same. Also don’t put them in a plastic bag. They will last for several weeks when stored this way. As for berries, don’t wash them until you’re ready to eat them. Place clean, dry strawberries in a shell and store in the refrigerator. You can also use a product saver, like this one. Otherwise, store the berries in a clean, paper towel-lined container without a lid. That way, the condensate can evaporate. Like bananas, avocados can be stored on the counter. However, when they’re ripe, it’s best to put both the avocado and banana in the fridge. If you refrigerate an unripe avocado, it will eventually ripen (but texture and flavor may be affected).
To ripen most fruit, store them in an airtight paper bag on the counter, for two to three days. Avoid extreme temperatures and direct sunlight. This works great for bananas, avocados and kiwis.
Gentle with herbs
Onto herbs. Growing your own herbs is a great idea, but if you can’t, they are very economical. When you bring them home, take your herbs out of whatever packaging they are in. Discard any pieces that are brown, dry, or slimy. Rinse quickly but thoroughly with cold water. Blot them dry. If you have a salad bar, you can use it to help drain more water (excess moisture is a big contributing factor to rotting). Now, you have two options:
Option 1: Roll the herb on a dry towel
When they are almost dry, transfer the herbs in a single layer onto a dry paper towel (or clean kitchen towel) and roll lengthwise into a cylinder. Put in a bag and store in the refrigerator, preferably in the refrigerator drawer. As for bags, use them with breathable, washable, reusable mesh bags. They are of excellent quality and are environmentally friendly.
Option 2: Put the herbs in a jar with water
Otherwise, put your herbs in a Mason jar with 1-2 inches of cold water. They should be in a loose bunch without the original elastics or twisted ties. Make sure that the ends of the stem are submerged in the water. Place these anywhere in your fridge, although I’ve found that fridge door racks work best (because they get warm air flow). Change the water every few days, like you would with a bouquet of flowers.
No more wilted lettuce
If you buy the heads of lettuce, treat them the same way you would tenderize herbs. Cut off the stem to separate the leaves, wash, dry, roll up in a dry paper towel and then put in a bag or storage box to prevent browning. If you bought a plastic container of spinach, open the lid, place a few paper towels on top of the spinach, and close the plastic lid. Turn the container upside down (leave it upside down) and refrigerate. Paper towels will absorb moisture!
Take advantage of your sharp drawers
Most other vegetables can simply sit in your crisper drawer until you need them: zucchini, celery, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc. However, you might want to consider the top. invest in these dividers, which work on the same principle as paper towels. . Instead of wrapping around the produce itself, they stay at the bottom of your fruit and vegetable drawer. They remove excess moisture that contributes to spoilage. The pads also allow more air to circulate, keeping things fresher for longer.
Your tomatoes prefer room temperature
For tomatoes that are not fully ripe, you should not put them in the refrigerator. They need to be kept at room temperature, ideally in a single layer (out of sunlight). To keep them fresh longer, store them on the bottom as they ripen. When they’re ripe, you can refrigerate them, but eat them within a few days.
Do you need to refrigerate vegetables?
As for carrots, beets, beets and the like—yes, keep them in the fridge. If you buy them with attachments, you should trim off the tops when not in use, as they will spoil faster than the roots. Toss the stalks in your compost, freeze them to make a broth, or add them to sauces. Potatoes, onions, winter squash, … do not need to be refrigerated, but should be stored in a cool, dry place.
Where to store dairy and animal protein in your fridge
For omnivores, how to organize your refrigerator to prevent food waste includes dairy and animal protein! This is where you want to use the main compartment. The main compartment is where a large amount of food is stored and usually has several shelves. On the lower shelves, store raw meat, milk and eggs. Temperatures tend to be the coldest, but not too cold (like the back of a refrigerator) to cause freezer burn.
Are you storing your affection properly?
Anything with a lot of acid, sugar, or salt doesn’t need to be refrigerated. You read it right. Standard ketchup, mustard and jam do not need to be refrigerated. Because they contain large amounts of salt and sugar (to preserve them), you can keep them in your pantry—even after they’ve opened. Same goes for things like Sriracha, hoisin, or barbecue sauce. They are made with enough vinegar and sugar to keep them safe to consume when stored at room temperature. The flavor of the mustard will hold up better in the refrigerator, but it will still be safe to eat until the best time if you decide to keep it in the pantry.
The only case where you may need to refrigerate one of these ingredients is if you purchased a low-sugar or low-salt version. If you’re like me, I’m wrong on the side of caution and cold storage of most spices. For dairy condiments (like mayo!), always refrigerate them. You can put them on the door shelf or on the top of the refrigerator. Finally, never leave olive oil or honey in the refrigerator. You risk destroying these ingredients if refrigerated. Honey may crystallize and dry out, while olive oil will solidify and lose flavor.
Nuts, Nut Butters and Nuts
I like the fridge (or freezer – for nuts and seeds). In particular, if you buy nut butters with no added ingredients, you either get them freshly grated or you make them yourself and store them in the fridge. On the other hand, shelf-life nut butters are often made with preservatives, and are safe to eat when kept in your pantry. At the very least, see the ingredient list. If you notice preservatives, or a lot of sugar or salt, then you should leave it at room temperature after opening.
The ultimate tip on how to organize your fridge to prevent food waste
Most importantly, remember this: out of sight, out of sight. What is placed in the back of your refrigerator will not see the light of day. For leftovers, opened sauces, fresh herbs, and produce you want to eat in the coming days, keep them within reach. In other words, think first. Whenever you add something new to your fridge, rotate the older items in each zone to the front. Second, label anything homemade. Use painter’s tape to write down the name of the recipe and the date it was made. Third, keep a running list. For large families — or anyone who tends to jam drawers with more products — make a list of what’s actually in there once a week and stick it on your fridge door.
What refrigerator organization rules do you live by? Let’s hear them in the comments!