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Anatomy of a Refrigerator
The door will be the warmest part of your refrigerator, so reserve this area for foods that are least likely to spoil. Whether you have a French door refrigerator, just one door, or a door-in-door, juices and condiments can stand up to the warm air that flows in every time you open the door.
While many refrigerators (especially a French door refrigerator) have a compartment for butter, eggs, and other dairy items, it's best to place those inside the actual refrigerator. That way, they'll keep longer and you won't have to worry about conducting a sniff test every time you want a bowl of cereal.
Additionally, if energy efficiency is a concern for you, consider purchasing an Energy Star certified French door refrigerator. Since the French door refrigerator model allows you to only open one door at a time, less cold air comes out every time you open the door. Better yet, an InstaView door has a window where you can see what's inside your fridge without opening the door.
Temperature-wise, the upper plastic or glass shelves are the most consistent part of your refrigerator, making them ideal for dairy, leftovers, and ready-to-eat foods like deli meats or hummus. Or, put another way, place foods that don't need to be cooked on the top shelf. You might consider placing leftovers far back in the upper section of the refrigerator, so they stay closer to the cooling element. Fresh leafy herbs stay well on the top shelf too, especially when placed in a jar of water to keep them fresh for up to a week.
While upper shelves have a consistent temperature, lower shelves have the coldest temperature in the refrigerator because cold air sinks to the bottom of the unit. Because of that, bottom shelves are your best friend for raw meat, dairy, eggs, seafood, or anything else that needs to be kept cold for health reasons.
Raw meat has bacteria that can spread to other areas of your refrigerator if you're not careful, so store raw meat in its original packaging to avoid cross-contamination. Plus, keeping it on a low, spill-proof shelf ensures that any leaking juices won't drip onto other food.
If you have a drawer that sits at an angle in your refrigerator, place your meat there (the bottom of the drawer sits right against the refrigerator coil, so the meat is as cold as possible). Otherwise, consider buying a plastic bin to store your raw meat in or placing it on a plate. Think of that as your mini meat locker, and make sure to clean the bin or plate regularly.
Drawers are engineered to hold foods at specific temperatures and humidities to help preserve fruits and vegetables as long as possible. It's crucial to keep fruits in one humidity-controlled drawer and veggies in another because many fruits produce ethylene, a chemical that helps them ripen but causes vegetables to go limp quickly. If you only have one crisper drawer, use it for vegetables, and add in a damp paper towel to keep leafy greens fresh for even longer.
It's best practice to wash fruits and veggies before eating, but if they have too much moisture on them, they'll spoil faster than you can say "antioxidant". Instead, the key is to wash your superfoods when it's convenient, but not so far out before eating them that they might spoil. After washing, blot foods with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. You might also consider putting washed berries on the top shelf of your refrigerator so you're visually reminded to eat them.
Top of the Refrigerator
All too often, the outside top of your refrigerator becomes a catch-all for random foods that don't quite fit in your pantry or on your counter, like loaves of bread, wine, discount coupons, or random cookbooks. However, you can make the compact space a lot more efficient with a few simple tweaks.
Quick lesson: the fridge's condenser coil pumps warm air out to keep the temperatures cold inside, and that heat rises through the top of the refrigerator. That warm air is the exact opposite of what you want for wine and bread. Instead, use the top of your refrigerator for kitchen supplies like paper towels or cookbooks.
Whether you have a side-by-side, top freezer, or a bottom freezer refrigerator, one thing's for sure: the freezer can be used for more than just frozen foods. Sure, you'll store frozen meat, fruit, and veggies in there to stay cooler (don't forget the ice cream!). However, you can also use your freezer for anything you want to eat in the future. Surprisingly, freezer-appropriate foods include pasta sauce, tortillas, bread (up to three months), and even eggs!
Within a compact freezer, be sure to pack your foods tightly in stackable plastic containers or plastic freezer bags (glass containers may break). Keep your freezer well-organized to maximize storage and make it easy for you to find the foods you're looking for, so you're not digging through your bottom freezer refrigerator looking for that frozen chili from eight months ago.
How do you store food in a refrigerator?
First of all, let's go over a few best practices for taking care of your fridge. In general, your refrigerator should be kept at or below 40 degrees F (if your fridge has an ice maker or water dispenser, you might set the temperature through that control panel). However, keep in mind that different areas of your fridge will circulate more warm air based on position and how close they are to the cooling element (for example, the door will be warmer than further inside the fridge). And while you might want to make the most out of every single grocery run, avoid cramming your fridge and its door to the gills; the cold air needs to circulate throughout the refrigerator for maximum freshness.
In order to make the most out of your brand new refrigerator, make sure that you're storing your food in the correct compartments. Many consumers don't realize that refrigerators have designated storage areas with specific warmer or cooler temperature zones that are engineered to keep your food fresh while preventing odors, decay, and mold. When you're putting your groceries away, take a few extra minutes to make sure you're putting your food in the appropriate storage zones.
What foods should you not refrigerate?
Some foods should never be placed in your refrigerator, even if it seems odd to you. Tomatoes, for example, get smelly and rotten when refrigerated. Onions, squash, and potatoes need to be kept at low moisture and cool temperatures, like dark cabinets or cupboards. Many fruits can be left on the counter while they ripen, but once that avocado hits the perfect ripeness, you can stick it in the crisper drawer or top shelf to slow the ripening process.
Then, there are the "sometimes" foods, that you may or may not choose to refrigerate based on personal preference. These foods include nuts, nut butters, or nut flours, among other items. They can be refrigerated if your house is warm or you want them to keep for a long period of time, but if you consume them pretty quickly, it's not totally necessary. For nut butters specifically, refrigeration can keep the natural oil from separating, if that's something you prefer.