How to Organize Your Refrigerator—and Keep It That Way

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Once you follow our expert tips for fridge organization, yours will never get messy again

messy fridge with a slider graphic to reveal organized fridgeTMB Studio

Fridge organization is a beautiful thing. It requires a relatively small amount of effort in the grand scheme of things, but it results in big payoffs. For starters, you can easily see all the food you have in an organized refrigerator; this not only helps when it comes time to meal prep and streamlines the process of making a grocery list, but it also reduces the amount of food you waste. Second, when food is stored in the right containers and at the correct temperature, it lasts longer without spoiling, which saves you money. And finally, if you keep good-for-you choices at eye level—think fruit or cut-up veggies—you can even improve your diet. Along with kitchen organization and pantry organization, fridge organization is essential for an efficient, smooth-running and budget-conscious household.

Ready to get started? We have the ultimate fridge organization cheat sheet, complete with pro tips and tricks, as well as recommendations for the best refrigerator organizers and food storage containers. (If, after organizing it, you decide your current fridge needs replacing, check out the best refrigerators and best refrigerator brands before you shop in person or online.)

What you’ll need:

  • Cooler or cooler bag
  • Clear bins
  • Glass food storage containers
  • A turntable

Step 1: Clear out the fridge

Before you can capably tackle organizing your fridge, you need to clear out and declutter, says Regina Ragone, a culinary nutritionist based in Long Island, New York, who has two decades of experience leading test kitchens at national magazines. Ragone suggests taking out all the food items so you can evaluate each and determine its fate. Check the sell-by date and consider how long can leftovers last in the fridge to decide if that chili is still OK to reheat for today’s lunch. Last but not least, bone up on foods you must throw away after the expiration date passes to aid in confident decision-making. (Do condiments expire? Good question! Find out before you decide whether the mayo stays or goes.) Place all items that you are keeping in a cooler or cooler bag until it’s time to return them to the fridge.

Step 2: Clean the fridge

If you can’t recall the last time you cleaned your fridge from top to bottom, it’s time. But first, learn how to deep clean a refrigerator and scan these eco-friendly cleaning products. Now that your fridge is empty, follow these steps:

  • Thoroughly wipe all walls, shelves, drawers and compartments with a soft cloth dampened with warm water and mild dish soap.
  • For caked-on gunk, like jelly, syrup, ketchup or mustard, use warm water and a scrubby pad rated safe for nonstick pans, suggests Ragone.
  • Close the doors to allow your fridge’s interior to get back to the right temperature before you begin replacing contents according to your new organization plan.

Step 3: Organize the fridge

Experts agree that the best fridge organization plan doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, a simpler system is better, because you are more likely to consistently maintain it, which is, of course, the goal. Most refrigerators have a variety of shelves, drawers and compartments to simplify the logistics of fruit and vegetable storage. Organizing the fridge with bins is another option.

How To Organize Your Fridge InfographicRD.com, Getty Images

Start with the shelves

Organized Refrigerator top and second ShelvesTMB Studio

A typical fridge has top, middle and bottom shelves. To find out what should go where, we checked in with Sally Kuzemchak, RD, consultant to national food brands and trade organizations, creator of the Real Mom Nutrition blog and primary re-stocker of a refrigerator and freezer for herself, her husband and two hungry, growing boys.

Because warm air rises in your fridge—just like everywhere else in your house—store items that need to be kept coldest, including most dairy products and raw meat, on the lower shelves. The rear part of your fridge that’s farthest away from the door is colder than the front, so keep that in mind when storing food.

Top shelf

  • Prepared/ready-to-eat foods
  • Leftovers. Store in leakproof, clear containers so contents are visible. (You’re more likely to eat what you see.)
  • Prepared dips and salsa
  • Pies and certain cakes that need to be refrigerated

Middle shelf

  • Eggs. Keep them in the original container, or store them loose in an organizer. (Note: If your fridge has egg cups in one of the doors, don’t use them. That door is too warm for eggs!)
  • Whole melons
  • Hard cheeses (cheddar, Swiss, Muenster). Keep them in the store wrapping until opened, then wrap them in wax paper or, for a sustainable option, a beeswax food wrap.
  • Crisper containers of ready-to-eat fruits and veggies, such as sliced peppers, baby carrots, grapes, etc.
  • Sour cream, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese. Place on a turntable for easy access.

Bottom shelf

Organized Refridgerator shelvesTMB Studio

  • Milk
  • Snacks, such as string cheese, yogurt and individual hummus or guac containers. Corral these in organizers for a neater look.
  • Cans of seltzer or other sodas in a drink organizer
  • Tender herbs (basil, parsley, mint, cilantro, dill, tarragon, etc.). To store fresh herbs, snip the bottoms, then stand them in a Mason jar with an inch or so of water in the bottom, or invest in an herb saver.

Move on to the drawers

shallow drawer for meat and cheese in an Organized refrigeratorTMB Studio

Newer models of fridges often have settings for drawers. The shallow drawer should be set to “meat,” while the crisper drawer designated for fruit should be on the lowest humidity setting and the one for veggies should be on the highest.

Shallow drawer

  • Deli meat, such as roast beef, ham and turkey, in the original deli packaging
  • Fresh meat, fish and poultry. Leave them in the store wrapping until ready to prepare. If the packaging isn’t airtight, position a plate or tray underneath to catch drippings.

crisper drawers for fruit and vegetables in an Organized FridgeTMB Studio

Crisper drawer for fruit 

  • Whole apples (loose and unwashed)
  • Oranges
  • Whole berries in a berry container

Crisper drawer for veggies

  • Whole heads of cauliflower, broccoli and lettuce. Leave unwashed in the original packaging, or keep loose.
  • Whole peppers
  • Whole carrots

If there is a humidity setting for the crisper drawer, it should be pushed to high.

Finish with the doors

The doors are the warmest part of the fridge. They’re also subjected to the most temperature fluctuations, since you (and your family members) open and close them repeatedly.

Dairy compartments

dairy in the door of an Organized FridgeTMB Studio

  • Butter. Leave unopened in the wrapper. Once opened, place it in a butter dish.
  • Soft cheeses, brie, cream cheese, etc. If opened, neatly wrap them in parchment paper.

Door compartments

items in the door or an organized fridgeTMB Studio

  • Orange juice
  • Oat milk and other alternative milks
  • Condiments, such as ketchup, mayonnaise, Sriracha, mustard, salad dressings and pickles
  • Jams and jellies
  • Sesame and walnut oil. Note: Only sesame and walnut oils need to be refrigerated; olive and vegetable oils belong in the pantry.

Organize the freezer

overhead view looking into an organized freezer drawerTMB Studio

Organizing the freezer is as simple as following the same basic method outlined for organizing the fridge. Evaluate all contents, and toss anything with freezer burn. Kuzemchak suggests creating zones and grouping like with like, such as all veggies together and all cold packs in one place. Create another dedicated zone for breakfast foods, such as frozen waffles, bagels or breakfast sandwiches. Store leftovers in well-labeled, clear glass containers. (Yep, you can put glass in the freezer.) Kuzemchak’s top tip: Do what makes the most sense for your family and lifestyle. Make it easy for people to see and grab what they want, so they don’t have to root around, which makes a mess.

More tips for organizing your fridge

Knowing what belongs on the upper, middle and lower shelves is important, but the following tips will take your fridge organization to the next level.

  • Stack where you can. Pile items in neat stacks, in clear bins if needed, to take advantage of vertical space, maximizing square inches.
  • Add a turntable. Positioning a turntable on a shelf makes for maximum storage and accessibility. Just spin to grab what you need.
  • Keep food visible. Use glass storage containers for leftovers. If your family is able to see the food, it increases the chance that it will actually get eaten, which is the point of saving those leftovers or buying those berries in the first place.
  • Avoid mixing fruits and vegetables. Keep fruits and veggies in separate drawers, not mixed. They emit gases at different rates, so storing them together can speed up spoiling. If you have strawberries, rinse them with a vinegar fruit wash before storing to fight the dreaded mold.
  • Pop in an open box of baking soda. Your mom was right! Baking soda does absorb odors to help keep your fridge smelling fresh.
  • Leave the top of the fridge clear. For better energy efficiency, forgo storing cookbooks or platters on top of your fridge. Doing so can cause your fridge to work harder, running up your electricity bill.

Sources:

Jonna Gallo Weppler
Jonna is an award-winning service journalist with 20+ years of experience covering all things lifestyle—her areas of expertise include food, personal finance, organizing, and entertaining. When she isn’t researching or writing stories for national magazines, she enjoys cooking, hanging out with her teenagers, and coaxing the family's cat to be more cooperative.