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How to store food in the fridge: your ultimate guide

Wondering where to put the meat or how long you can store leftovers? Read our ultimate guide to how to store food in the fridge.

Updated

Not sure how to store food in the fridge? It might be tempting to just bung it all in wherever it fits, but this isn’t going to help your food last longer (and it might not be safe either).

Organising your fridge properly helps reduce waste, cuts your chances of getting food poisoning and could even slash your weekly shopping bill. And with that in mind, we’ve put together this ultimate guide to how to organise a fridge and store your food – from fresh fruit to leftovers.

Why is food stored in the fridge?

Some foods need to be kept in the fridge to help slow down the growth of germs and keep food fresh and safe for longer. These foods tend to be marked with a ‘use by’ date and ‘keep refrigerated’ on the label, such as milk, meat and ready meals.

Start with a clean fridge

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Before you even start thinking about how to store food in the fridge, it’s worth taking the time to give it a thorough clean. It’s that job no one wants to do, but good fridge hygiene is important and cleaning your fridge will rid it of any harmful bacteria.

Has your cleaning regime changed during the Covid-19 lockdown?

For all sorts of fridge cleaning tips, take a look at our guide on how to clean a fridge. And if you’re still struggling with stubborn smells in the fridge, we have a whole host of ideas for how to deal with fridge smells too.

Shelf life: which shelves in a fridge should food be stored on?

Once you’ve got a sparklingly clean fridge, it’s time to think about how to put all the food back in.

Different parts of your fridge tend to run at slightly different temperatures. The coldest part is the bottom of the fridge right at the back, while the warmest is inside the door. This difference in temperature plays a big role in where you should store different types of food.

Here’s our guide to what you should put on which shelves…

Top shelves

The top shelves are the ideal place to store items that don’t need cooking, such as cooked meats and leftovers (there’s more on how to store leftovers later).

Middle shelves

The middle shelves in your fridge are ideal for dairy products like cheese, yoghurt and butter. It’s also the best place to store eggs, as the middle shelves will keep them at a nice consistent temperature.

Bottom shelf

Ever wondered where to put meat in the fridge? The bottom shelf is the answer for any uncooked meat. Not only will this mean it stays super cold, but if the containers were to leak for any reason, there’s less risk of it contaminating your other food. Ideally, you should also keep milk at the back in the bottom of the fridge, as this will help it keep for longer. But depending on the type of milk you buy, this might also depend on whether you have space to stand bottles upright.

Drawers

The fridge drawers are the ideal place to store fresh fruit and vegetables. However, remember to check first whether they’re best kept in the fridge or at room temperature (potatoes, for example, are a fridge no-no).

Most vegetables, like carrots, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage and celery should be stored in a plastic bag or container in the crisper of your fridge. Mushrooms are best stored in a paper bag. While salad will keep longest if you stop the air from getting to it (tip: pop it in an airtight container lined with kitchen towel).

Fruit on the other hand, doesn’t usually need to be stored in wrapping. Try to keep it separate from the vegetables, though as this will prevent them from ripening too fast.

For more tips, take a look at our guide to keeping fruit and veg fresh at home.

Fridge door

Your fridge door is best for foods and drinks that don’t need to be as cold. For example, sweet and salt-based condiments (like ketchup), fruit juices and hard cheeses.

10 top tips for storing food in the fridge

You’ve got the lowdown on which shelves are best for certain foods, but what else should you be aware of when deciding how to organise your fridge?

  1. Don’t overfill your fridge. Having too much food in your fridge can affect the temperature and cause bacteria to breed, so it’s important not to cram too much on each shelf.

  2. Make sure your fridge is at the right temperature. You want your fridge to be between 0-4 degrees Celcius to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Fridge thermostats aren’t always accurate, so if you suspect yours is off, use a thermometer to double-check.

  3. Prevent cross-contamination. As we’ve already touched on, cooked foods should be kept on the upper shelves and more ‘risky’ foods such as raw meat and fish at the bottom. Ideally, they shouldn’t be stored together. If uncooked meat must go on a higher shelf, make sure to pop it on a plate to stop it dripping onto any prepared food below.

  4. Use shelf liners. To help with future cleaning, you can line your fridge shelves with plastic placemats or shelf liners, which are super-easy to peel off and wash.

  5. Use plastic baskets or see-through stackable containers. These are a great way to keep everything in its place. Store like with like – for example put all the condiments or dairy items together.

  6. Try raiding your office supplies. Plastic magazine holders can be repurposed as storage for small and loose items such as yoghurts and fruit juice cartons. Use bulldog clips to hang bags from wire shelving, while drawer dividers can be used to separate salad ingredients in the crisper drawers.

  7. Remove cardboard packaging. For example, from the likes of yoghurts and canned drinks. This makes the items easier to find and access – not to mention your fridge will feel less cluttered.

  8. Make labels. Add these to your containers and sections in the fridge door so you can find things easily.

  9. Keep fresh foods away from the back of the fridge. Fresh foods like salads and herbs could freeze and go off at the back of the fridge, as the temperature at the very back is much colder.

  10. Never put hot food into the fridge. It will cause the overall temperature to rise and can lead to food poisoning and unnecessary food spoilage.

How long can you store food in the fridge?

How long you can store food depends a lot on the type of food it is. Most pre-packed foods carry either a ‘use by’ or a ‘best before’ date. And it’s important to know the difference in order to decide what’s safe to eat.

  • ‘Use by’ dates appear on foods that go off quite quickly. And it can be dangerous to eat foods past this date. Food can look and smell fine even after its ‘use by’ date, but that doesn’t mean it's safe to eat. It could still contain bugs that could make you ill.

  • ‘Best before’ dates are for foods with a longer life and are designed to show how long the food will be at its best. Eating food past its ‘best before’ date is not dangerous, but the food may not be as good quality.

How to store leftovers in the fridge

Throwing away leftover food is a big – and unnecessary – waste. But knowing how to store leftovers safely is vital, whether it’s from a family meal or a big event like Christmas. Here are our tips for storing leftovers safely.

Let food cool down before storing it

As mentioned in our top tips, you should never put hot food in the fridge. Instead, let any hot leftovers cool first before storing them.

How to store leftover meat

  • Meat needs to be covered and refrigerated within two hours of cooking.

  • Remove any stuffing from meats like turkey or chicken and store this separately.

  • Pull the meat off the bone while it’s still warm.

  • Ensure the meat is cooled before storing it. You can slice the meat up to help the cooling process along.

  • Cover with clingfilm or wrap in heavy-duty foil and put in a container for up to two days in the fridge. If you want it to last longer, freeze it.

How to store other common leftovers

  • Cheese can leave a lingering aroma. Avoid transferring the fumes to other foods and keep stored in airtight plastic containers or zip-lock bags to keep your cheese fresh for around 30 days.

  • Sauces don’t need to be poured away. Bag up and seal away sauces into freezer bags, stored upright in your fridge to save space. For a longer shelf-life, freeze your sauces in ready-to-eat portions

  • Fish like salmon can be wrapped in foil and stored in a shallow covered container in the fridge for up to two days, or in the freezer for one month.

  • Shellfish, spread out in a single layer on a plate, can keep for two days in the fridge or frozen in a container for three months.

  • Pasta can be stored in airtight containers in the fridge for 3 to 5 days. Store pasta and sauce separately, if possible.

  • Rice should be cooled as quickly as possible. When cold, put into a container, cover and chill in the fridge. Don’t keep rice for more than a day before reheating it – and then only reheat it once. And make it’s piping hot before serving.

  • Cakes can dry out in the fridge after a couple of days. Instead, store them in a container at room temperature or cling film the cut sides and leave out on the counter for up to four days. You can also freeze them for up to three months if wrapped in cling film and put inside a freezer bag.

Consider the freezer

Not enough room in your fridge? We’ve got some great tips for freezing leftovers so you can benefit from delicious meals months down the line.

How long can you keep homemade food in the fridge?

We’ve given some guidance with all of the food above for how long you can keep it. But as a rule of thumb, for any home-cooked food, you should try to eat the leftovers within two days – this is particularly important if the food contains meat or fish.

Fridge storage hacks for healthy eating

They say we eat with our eyes, and this is certainly true when it comes to opening the fridge. As the door swings open, those moreish morsels and tempting treats are lit up, winking back at us.

Is it possible to avoid temptation and go for the healthy option? Yes! Just follow these hacks:

  • Put sugary snacks and not-so-healthy bites into opaque tubs to hide them from immediate view.

  • Have some pre-portioned healthy grab-and-go snacks, such as vegetable crudités, chopped fruit or cheese in transparent tubs or bags.

  • Put healthy snacks within easy reach on the middle shelves.

Keeping your fridge running smoothly

So now you know how to organise your fridge like a pro, but do you know how to keep it in great condition? To make sure your food keeps well, it’s worth carrying out regular checks on your fridge (or fridge freezer). If you think it needs some TLC, we’ve got a step-by-step guide to defrosting your fridge.

Originally published