Follow these tips to keep all your ingredients and leftovers kickin' (and free from contamination).

By Betty Gold
Updated March 30, 2020
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Every year, the United States throws away nearly 40 percent of its food. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, that adds up to more than $160 billion wasted per year.

There's nothing worse than being forced to toss (previously) perfectly good produce, dairy, or meat just because it was stored in an improper way. Here's exactly how to organize foods inside your fridge so they'll live their longest and best-tasting life—your wallet and the world as we know it will thank you, too.

Leftovers

  • Store all leftovers in leak-proof, clear containers or wraps. We love those from Snapware and Rubbermaid—they're super airtight, which helps your food stay as fresh as possible.
  • Follow the 'first in, first out' rule: always eat the oldest foods first.
  • Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of cooking. And there's no need to wait for piping-hot foods to cool down before storing them―modern refrigerators can handle the heat.
  • Divide leftovers into small, flat containers so that they cool faster. (Some bacteria spores survive the cooking process and may germinate if the food is at room temperature long enough.)
  • Don't refrigerate leftover soup broth, tuna fish, cranberry sauce, or other foods in cans. Once a can is opened, residual metal on the rim can leach into food and leave a metallic taste.

Meat, Fish, and Poultry

  • You want these in the coldest spot in your fridge, often but not always at the bottom, ideally stored in their own drawer. If your fridge allows you to adjust the temperature of the meat drawer, set it to 29° F.
  • Keep all fresh meat, fish, and poultry in its store wrapping: re-wrapping increases the risk of exposing the food to harmful bacteria. If the item didn't come in a Styrofoam tray, slide a plate underneath it to catch any drippings

Dairy

  • When you buy something new, like a fresh gallon of milk, rotate the older items to the front so that they can be used before the expiration date.
  • Leave cottage cheese, yogurt, eggs, sour cream, milk, and cream in the containers they came in. However, if you transfer milk to a pitcher or sour cream to a serving bowl, don't return them to the original containers. Instead, tightly cover the pitcher or bowl with plastic wrap.
  • Store hard cheeses in the store wrapping until you use them, then wrap them in wax paper, foil, or loose plastic.
  • Plastic milk bottles make more sense than cardboard cartons, since bacteria can grow near the cardboard spout and enter a glass of milk every time you pour. Nevertheless, as long as you use the milk within its shelf life, it should be safe to drink.
  • Whatever you do, don't store your milk in the door—it's the warmest spot in the fridge. The door should be used for nonperishable drinks and condiments only.

Fruits and Vegetables

  • Keep fruits and vegetables separate and store like with like: apples with apples, carrots with carrots. Fruits and vegetables give off different gases that can cause others to deteriorate.
  • Store fruits and vegetables susceptible to drying out in perforated or unsealed plastic bags to maintain a moist environment yet still allow air to circulate.
  • Don't wash produce before refrigerating it. The dampness can make it mold and rot more quickly.

For a comprehensive cold-storage chart, consult the federal food-safety website, foodsafety.gov.