Despite good intentions, fridges easily end up cluttered, dirty and, quite frankly, as a cold rectangle where food goes to die.
Floppy carrots, off meat, a container of three-month-old soup, sad cheese, wilted lettuce, spilt milk, sticky rings from jam and soy sauce bottles...
If you find yourself regularly throwing out food, de-cluttering and having to clean your fridge, here are five tips from Verity Mann, Head of Testing at Good Housekeeping and Melissa Maker, bestselling author of Clean My Space: The Secret to Cleaning Better, Faster, and Loving Your Home Every Day.
1. Check the use-by dates
Before going for a food shop or loading the fridge with new products, Mann recommends taking a good look at the use-by and seeing what really needs replacing.
"It's all too easy to buy new items and put them straight in, thereby pushing 'older' date items further back," Mann told The Huffington Post Australia.
"It's good to rotate items by their use-by dates to ensure you don't create unnecessary waste and end up having to throw items away."
"You want to store anything that's open in plain sight so that you use it up quicker," Maker told HuffPost Australia.
2. Organise according to temperature zones
Not everyone knows that fridges don't have even temperatures throughout. For instance, every time you open the door, the temperature increases, which is why the door shelves should house stable products like jam and chutney.
"Temperatures vary in different parts of the fridge," Mann said. "Create zones for your food and consider ways to make sure all the space is used. There are also optimum places to store items."
Where to store different foods in the fridge
- Open condiments, such as mayonnaise, sauces and dressings, on the upper shelves
- Dairy products on the lower/middle shelves
- Raw meat and fish on the bottom shelf
- Preserves such as jams, chutneys and pickles in the fridge door shelves, where temperatures are most susceptible to fluctuation
- Delicate salads and herbs away from the back of the fridge, which is very cold -- these are best stored in the salad drawers.
"Imagine your fridge is like a thermometer -- the coldest part is at the bottom and the warmest part is at the top," Maker explained.
"Load food in the fridge in this order: the higher the safe cooking temperature required for the food, the lower on the fridge it should be. This is how professional kitchens organise their fridges."
Also keep in mind that the front of the shelf is usually warmer than the back of the shelf, so load food that needs to be really cold on the far back portion of your lowest shelf.
"Keep eggs in their cartons and store them on the middle shelf, along with cheese, deli meats and other dairy products (except milk, which goes on the bottom shelf)," Maker said.
"Leftovers and prepared foods can go on the top shelf, and raw ingredients can go on the bottom shelf.
3. Use produce bags
Chuck out more heads of lettuce and carrots than you care to remember? It's all thanks to moisture levels and the different moisture requirements of each fruit and veggie.
"Veggies require moisture, and fruits don't like moisture, so keep this in mind when setting up your crisper bins," Maker said.
To separate fruit and vegetables and extend their fridge life, consider buying eco-friendly produce bags, such as these.
4. Don't over-stuff the fridge
It's tempting to pack the fridge as full as possible and get away with one food shop per week, but over-stuffing the fridge can result in spoiled food. Cold air needs to circulate to keep food chilled and it can't do that in a crowded environment.
"[Avoid] over-stuffing the fridge (especially crisper drawers) and doubling up on items already in the fridge," Maker told HuffPost Australia.
"Only keep what is absolutely needed in the fridge so you can see what you have."
For instance, peanut butter, chocolate, soy sauce and butter don't necessarily need refrigeration. Read our pantry vs fridge explainer for more info.
"Keep certain fruits and vegetables out of the fridge. Avocados, bananas, potatoes, onions and garlic naturally release ethylene gas, which can cause other fruit and veg to ripen or spoil more quickly," Mann told HuffPost Australia.
"Potatoes should also not be stored in the fridge as they can change in flavour and texture, due to changes in sugar content. Bread is more likely to go stale if stored in the fridge, so wrap it and store in a cool, dry place instead."
5. Place messy items in containers
There's nothing worse than leftovers or meat leaking all over the fridge drawers and even the bottom. To avoid unwanted mess, make friends with high-quality sealed containers.
"Place meat in a plastic container to prevent raw meat juices from leaking down into the crisper bins," Maker said.
"Make sure raw meat and poultry cannot leak on to other foods by storing these on the bottom shelf. Store cooked foods on the shelves above," Mann added.
More fridge tips for reducing food waste
Don't keep the fridge door open for longer than necessary and don't overfill the fridge, as this will prevent air circulating, which will affect the internal temperature.
Only put food that is room temperature or cooler in the fridge -- putting hot food in the fridge will raise the temperature inside the fridge.
To avoid having to clean your fridge every week, try these easy tips.
"The best way to avoid having to do a timely deep clean is to clean the fridge regularly -- as and when you notice little spills and marks," Mann said.
"Use a proprietary cleaner or a solution of one tablespoon bicarbonate of soda to one litre water and with a soft cloth, go over the shelves, drawers, interior walls and then dry. Put any removable fittings in the dishwasher for a really good clean."
"Stay on top of keeping bottles and jars clean around the rim and base," Maker added. "If you notice something has spilled, give it a quick wipe before replacing it in the fridge to avoid it from leaving crusty rings on the fridge shelf.
"Replace a bowl of baking soda [in the fridge] every three months -- this prevents odour and flavour transfer."
Another tip is to line the fridge drawers with kitchen towel that can be easily removed and changed whenever necessary.
"Keeping on top of the crisper bins and prepared or leftover food is the best thing you can do to avoid science experiments," Maker said.
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