Reorganizing Your Fridge Is One of the Easiest Ways to Combat Food Waste—Here's How
Stay in the zones and learn to love leftovers.
The next time you go scooping uneaten leftovers or mushy-ish produce from your fridge into the trash (we've all been there), consider this: The United States is the global leader in food waste, throwing away a staggering 80 billion pounds—the equivalent of 1,000 Empire State Buildings—of food every year. If you think one person alone can hardly put a dent in that figure, think again. Everyone doing their part to reduce food waste in their own homes can collectively make a significant impact toward less food waste.
Mise en place, the French term for "putting everything in its place," is typically used in reference to your setup when cooking, but this idea applies to your kitchen as a whole, including your refrigerator. One of the top ways to reduce food waste is to arrange your fridge in a way that you'll know exactly what you have—information that can then guide your cooking and eating to ensure nothing goes into the trash.
"When your fridge is organized, you're more aware of its contents and more likely to use foods before they turn bad," says Abbie Gellman, RD, chef at Institute of Culinary Education in New York. Take note of these expert tips for cutting back on food waste by organizing your fridge.
Play Zone Defense
Refrigerator organization 101: Group things by zones, to include produce, dairy, raw meat/poultry/seafood, and leftovers. Having all your items categorized and stored in a designated space will make it easier to see them and use them in a timely manner, says Gellman. Produce should be kept in the crisper drawers, as it will help it stay fresh longer. Store cheese and milk on shelves rather than in the door, which is the warmest part of your fridge. Any meat should go on the bottom shelf with a paper towel stored underneath the packages (in case of any drips). Keep leftovers on a high shelf so you’re more likely to spot them.
Think Front to Back
Any time you add something new to your fridge, rotate the older items in each zone to the front. This is a method called FIFO—first in, first out—that’s effective in helping you to use older dishes, containers, or condiments soonest, says Gellman.
For leftovers or anything that’s in an opened container, such as a half-used jar of pasta sauce, write the name of the item along with the date you added it to the fridge, says Gellman. That way, there’s no more guessing whether the casserole you discover is four or 14 days old (hey, it can be hard to remember!). You can use kitchen tape, painter’s tape or masking tape, or even a plain old permanent marker will work for any container you’re planning to recycle afterward (i.e., single-use cans or jars).
If you’re someone who has a tendency to jam a crisper drawer full of produce, make a list of what’s actually in there once a week and tape it to your refrigerator door. “It’s easy to forget that you have half a cucumber, a carrot, and three radishes buried in there, but if you have a list, you’ll always know what’s available,” says Gellman.
Veggies need the most TLC when it comes to fridge storage and organization. Gellman recommends taking produce out of the plastic bags or containers they come in before placing them into the crisper drawers. Then, you can employ storage methods that keep them fresher longer—such as wrapping herbs or leafy greens in damp paper towels, or placing peppers and carrots in special produce bags. You should also separate greens from the vegetables where applicable. For example, beets and beet greens should be separated to help them both last longer, says Gellman, as the greens will degrade much faster than the beets (wrap greens in a damp towel and store the beets free in the crisper drawer).
Prolong Those Herbs
Fresh herbs like cilantro and parsley can be among the first items in your fridge to get slimy quickly if they’re stored improperly. To help herbs last longer, remove them from the bags or containers they come in and stick them in jars filled with a little water, advises Jeremy Walters, sustainability ambassador with recycling company Republic Services in Henderson, Nev. This can sustain the herbs for a few weeks, enough time for you to use them up in a variety of dishes.
Corral Your Condiments
It’s easy to end up with a ridiculously high number of dressings, sauces, mustards and other condiments in your fridge, especially when you cook new recipes often. Rather than mixing them haphazardly throughout the refrigerator (which makes it easy to forget what you have, leading to duplicates when you buy another), the best place to store condiments is in the door of your fridge, says Walters. Then, group like with like (salad dressings together, hot sauces, barbecue sauces, and so forth).
Get Creative with Leftovers
Does your family abhor leftovers? You’re not alone. “We have all cooked a meal way too large for any average-sized family to consume at some point, typically resulting in eating those same leftovers for days on end,” says Walters. Instead of letting that lasagna age for days in the fridge until it goes bad, look up ways to repurpose the meal. For example, you can mix leftover lasagna with jarred pasta sauce, crushed tomatoes, a little broth and Italian seasoning to make a lasagna soup. Check out the Netflix series Best Leftovers Ever! for more inspiration.