How To: Clean and Organize Your Refrigerator Like a Pro

By: Diy maven Mar 15, 2013

created at: 03/14/2013

For someone who keeps her books in alphabetical order by genre, I'm kind of a slob when it comes to the refrigerator. It's not that it's exceptionally dirty. The problem is it is a disorganized free for all. Check out this annotated version of the picture above:

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created at: 03/14/2013

Although we have a very roomy refrigerator, you'd think we'd do a better job of keeping it tidy. Not so much. I think it's BECAUSE it's so large we just set stuff in there willy-nilly. That is ending as of today, because it is a dawn of a new era. The era of a clean and tidy refrigerator.

If you'd like to enter this new age with me, here's the map to follow:

1. If your fridge is nasty-dirty, you might as well unplug the thing because it'll probably take you a while to clean it. If so, have a cooler ready to hold the food in the interim.  If your fridge only needs a quick wipe-down, like mine--then unplugging won't be necessary. Either way, your first step is to remove all the food.

created at: 03/14/2013

2. While removing the food, check for expiration dates and toss those things that have expired. When you get to the condiments, keep in mind that they don't actually last forever. Refer to the Table of Condiments that Periodically Go Bad to figure out what to throw. (Click on image below to expand.)

created at: 03/14/2013

3. If they're removable, take out all the drawers, bins and etcetera, and wash them in a sink full of warm sudsy water. (I prefer using dishwashing soap.)

4. Wipe down the inside of the fridge, and don't forget the inside bottom. (How does the bottom get dirty UNDER the drawers?) I use a dish soap/warm water combo for this too. 

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5. Now step back and consider the food you just removed and picture the items where they were originally at the grocery store. Beverages here, dairy there. You get the idea. That's how you'll want to replace the stuff. You'll want to adjust the shelves--if possible--as necessary to accomodate the new arrangement.

Beverages are now together. How novel!

created at: 03/14/2013

I treated my organized fridge to some new storage containers. I chose Tupperware Premier containers because they're PBA free and completely see- through. (The tub of carrots has condensation inside; when it came to temperature, it dissipated.) This is the deal because if you can SEE what you have in your fridge, you'll eat it. Also, see-through containers make creating a grocery list easier: you can see what you need and what you don't. I found my Premier set of 14 pieces at Target for $12, which was much more cost effective than buying the containers individually. The upside of buying new containers was going through my old ones and recycling those that were stained.

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I tossed the original produce bags from the grocery store, opting for plastic container bottoms instead. Again, this way I can see what I have on hand and the containers keep the fruit and veg from rolling around in the drawers. They keep the drawers clean as well.

created at: 03/14/2013

I also cleaned all the produce that I had purchased the day before. I'm guilty of letting this go too long. So long, in fact, that I've been known to have to throw celery that wilted while waiting to be cleaned. Waste=guilt, for me anyway. Also, salad spinners: They're the perfect way to store cleaned lettuce if you have the room.

6. After the inside is clean and organized, it's time to pull the fridge away from the wall and clean the floor underneath and the back of the fridge itself. (You'll also want to vacuum any exposed coils.) If you can't pull your fridge away from its spot, a yard stick with a damp cloth or paper towel rubber-banded to the end can do an decent job of getting the dust bunnies out. 

7. If you've unplugged the fridge, now is the time to plug it back in and clean the outside. The very best thing to make enamel fridges sparkle is by using a microfiber cloth and Sprayway Glass Cleaner. Sprayway is billed as the best glass cleaner ever, and it is. They also sell a stainless steel cleaner that is equally superior for stainless appliances. Both are available at Amazon, but I've also seen the glass cleaner at hardware stores as well as World Market, of all places. 

And there you have it; my refrigerator now:

created at: 03/14/2013

BTW: You'll notice we refrigerate some grain products. This is suggested by the manufacturer to prolong shelf life and quality, so in the fridge they go.  

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those are Rubbermaid Premier not Tupperware, if someone goes searching for them. I far prefer Pyrex glass storage.

Great tips! I'm the same. I like to wash some veg & even peel carrots (leaving some unscrubbed as well if the bag is a huge one). Then you can grab the clean ones when you're in a hurry & like you said they're more likely to get used up. Especially if you're a vegetarian. :-)

Technically speaking, you shouldn't keep super perishable items like milk and eggs and other related dairy products in the door. It's warmer there, therefore putting those items in a zone that isn't safe and could make things spoil faster. Another comment already commented on this, but when storing meats, chicken should always go on the bottom, highest temp to cook to. Good rule of thumb for safe storage: RTE (ready to eat foods), fish, pork, beef, chicken.

I agree with Michelle;  I don't wash my produce until right before I use it. This is especially true of berries, which will mold very quickly. The only I exception I make is for grapes. I wash the grapes right away and store them in an open bowl in the fridge because they disappear pretty quickly anyway...my kids grab them on their own, from the fridge. However, I do keep my onions in the fridge. I'm verrrrrry sensitive and cold onions help prevent onion tears. LOL. I love the tip about keeping veggies in containers in the bin; I definitely need to do that. 

I was just thinking yesterday that I really need to give my fridge a good scrubbing. It doesn't yet feel like Spring here but I guess it wouldn't hurt to start Spring Cleaning!

I am of Irish (potato experts) extraction and the people who say NO to potatoes in the fridge are correct. As they sit in the cold, they develope sugars, which totally changes the taste.  Also, those potato and onion storage bins (The ugly wooden ones with poker burnt nameson them) are VERY bad for both potatoes and onions, which should be kept VERY seperate.  According to (I think) Alton Brown (The scientific cook) each veg gives off a gas (Like apples do) which makes the other ripen and spoil faster.  Having an old house, I have a walk in pantry.  I keep the onions, shallots and garlic in a multilevel bin on wheels.  Potatoes are at the top of the basement stairs in baskets, two closed doors away from the onions.

@Stephanie--I've never experienced spoilage of either potatoes or onions in the fridge. I'm thinking it's because of the 'special' produce drawers in which we keep them. 

FYI - Potatoes, onions should stay out of the fridge. I keep potatoes and onions in separate bins in my pantry. They will keep much longer stored in a cool, dark place like a pantry or inside a cabinet. The moisture in the refrigerator will get in between the layers of the onion skin and cause them to mold and spoil much faster.
Other than that, it looks awesome!

@Mark--Yup, vegetarian. This post wasn't really supposed to be about food storage--just cleaning and organizing, but it seems to have turned into that based on the comments. Perhaps there is a future food storage roundup in my future. :) Thanks for the info!

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Ditto Irishwoman's comment about potatoes. Never keep them in the fridge. The same is true for tomatoes, which will end up tasting like liquid cardboard. You can take your leftover situation to a higher (and safer) level by labeling those plastic containers. I use a roll of cheap masking tape and a Sharpie. Date and label the food. It's not an issue with, say, carrots, but this red liquid over here, is it pureed tomatoes? Spaghetti sauce? Sriracha?

Never be tempted to just cover a partial can of something with foil or plastic wrap. I used to do this all the time with tomato paste, and I would always end up with a furry little science experiment before I got around to finishing the can. Those plastic containers come in all sizes, from very large to very small. The investment is worth it.

Finally, I see no provision for storage of raw meats, so I assume the author is a vegetarian. The pro tip for the rest of us is to keep raw meat & fish in the lowest level of the refrigerator. It's coldst there, for one thing, but more important, if those juices drip out of the package before you get around to cooking, you risk cross-contaminating anything stored at a lower level. You won't want those crudites if they've been marinating in raw chicken juice 

I came up with a brilliant idea to control leftovers recently. As I'm putting them away, I use a dry erase marker to write on the fridge the date and what's in there. We've gotten a lot better, both about eating the leftovers because it's right there and keeping the fridge clean because every few days I notice at least a couple of things on the list that should be tossed. I usually dont toss much, we all eat leftovers for lunch. We never pass on something because we can't remember when we had it.

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Don't keep your potatoes in the refrigerator, it spoils their taste.

@Chris--Oh, yeah, you betcha. Actually the hubs and I took the Summit Brewery tour a few summers ago (St. Paul). Very cool facility. Very cool people. They serve up free beer in their on-site bar. Even the employees partake. We asked if it's ever a problem. The answer was 'no'. Apparently, they learn quickly that drinking on the job is not the smartest thing to do. Funny, though, I thought the brewery would smell like beer, you know--hops, whatever--but it actually smelled more like wine. Very very potent wine. Check their website for tours, if you're ever in town. Highly recommended. 

How's that Summit IPA? Are they from the Twin Cities?

Yep.  If you're buying vegetables from the grocery store, the soil that they were grown in has already been washed off.  So by washing your vegetables before storing them, you're actually introducing bacteria that wouldn't have been on them before.  Always wash them before you eat them though.  And even if you have washed them before storing, you still have to wash them again before eating.

I tried to find a link to that clip on America's Test Kitchen, but I can't find it.  I was going to link to other sources, but there were too many.  Just type "should you wash vegetables before storing" into Google.

Michelle--REALLY?? Even carrots and celery?? 

Great tips!  But I did want to mention that, according to America's Test Kitchen, washing fruits and vegetables generally makes them spoil faster.

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