How to Organize Your Fridge and Pantry (to Avoid Wasting Food)


Do you constantly find yourself moving everything around in the fridge and pantry?  Or pulling everything out just to find what you are looking for?  

Is food often going bad or are you forgetting which leftovers are in the fridge or when you prepared that meal?

This post will provide you with tips on how to organize your fridge and pantry so that you are wasting less and enjoying more.  Food is expensive!  Nobody wants to throw out food that they spent their hard earned money on!

how to organize your fridge and pantry

What is the Best Way to Organize Your Fridge and Keep It Clean?

The first step to keeping anything organized, is setting up a system in the first place.  You are less likely to go back to your old ways (or just put things wherever they fit), if you have taken the time to come up with a great organization system.  

You are also more likely to use up food before it goes bad because you can easily see what is in the fridge and when it must be eaten by.

Once a week, go through everything in the fridge to check for expiry dates.  This includes everything you are storing in the door of your fridge.  The items in the door are often forgotten!  

If you notice that a food item has expired and you still need it, immediately add it to your grocery list for that week.

When you are checking the expiry dates, this is a great time to pull out the shelves to clean them. Do a general wipe down of the inside of the fridge and freezer as well.  

How to Organize a Fridge for Food Safety

Prior to organizing the fridge, make sure that you have the temperature in your fridge set correctly.  According to the FDA, the fridge should be set to 40° F (4° C) or less and the freezer should be set to 0° F (-18° C).  Use your best judgement though.  Your fridge may be on the colder side or warmer side.  So if you are finding your food is getting too cold or too warm, adjust the temperature accordingly.  

Use the doors of the fridge for items that don’t contain any ingredients that can spoil in warmer temperatures.  The fridge tends to be colder towards the back where the cooling unit is. It is not as cool towards the front.  The doors are particularly susceptible to food spoiling because they are exposed everytime the fridge is opened.  

The door can include condiments, such as; ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, juice boxes, etc….  Mayonnaise that has eggs in it should not be stored in the door and eggs in general should not be stored in the door.  Lunch meats and some types of cheese should also not be stored in the door. 

Make sure all containers are sealed properly so there is no chance of contamination.  

If you have meat that has thawed or is fresh that you are cooking that evening, put it on the bottom shelf in the fridge. Preferably with a dish or cutting board under it. 

Otherwise, there is a chance that the meat could drip down onto other food, causing contamination.  This could make you very sick and may result in having to throw out food that was still good.  When you remove the meat from the fridge, disinfect where it was sitting immediately.

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How to Organize Your Fridge to Prevent Food Waste

When putting food into the fridge, the oldest food should always be stored at the front, so you know to use that first and the newer items in the back.  

Make sure to check expiry dates first though!  For example, you may have purchased yogurt two weeks ago and then bought more 2 days ago, but it is possible that the yogurt purchased two weeks ago actually has the later expiry date.

Purchase glass storage containers for any leftovers.  This will keep the food fresh longer, will make it easier to stack in the fridge and you can often heat everything upright in that container.  They are also dishwasher safe, making for easier cleanup.

Use sticky notes / post-it notes to write down what day you put the leftovers in the fridge.  Then you will know when it must be eaten by.  Generally most food once cooked can be eaten for 3-4 days after that.  

Once you have this organization system in place, you will just need to check expiry dates once per week and throw out anything that has expired.  This will leave you consistently with only food that is still good to eat and organized in a way that the older food will be consumed first.

Tip: If you are storing cut up onions in the fridge, make sure to put them in a container that seals tightly, as they can change the flavour of other foods in the fridge.  

storing fruit

Refrigerator Organization Hacks

Don’t be afraid to take food out of the packages that they came in.  I’m thinking about things like; juice boxes that are bundled in packs of 8-10, or yogurt that is stacked in two rows with 8-10 per row. 

Even if you buy large juice containers or milk containers, you can purchase separate containers to pour those in, which will fit your space better.  You will have a lot more flexibility with how you store the items if they are taken out of the original packages.

Buy containers that can be stacked, which you can transfer your food into.  This will allow you to use the height of each of the shelves, which fully uses all of the available space in your fridge.

If you want to save even more time on checking expiry dates, put a different colour post-it note on the item if it will be expiring within the week.  This way you will immediately know that it is expired when going through the items again. Instead of searching around for the expiry date (they are hard to find sometimes).

Put all similar food items on the same shelf.  If you are chopping up fruits and vegetables to put into containers, store all of those containers on one shelf.  Store any drinks on one shelf.  Any containers, such as margarine, cottage cheese, sour cream, etc… on one shelf.  Leftovers on another shelf and so on.

Where Should You Put Things in Your Fridge?

Storing Fruits and Vegetables

Most refrigerators come with a drawer for vegetables, another one for fruit and potentially another one for cheese, lunch meats, etc.

These drawers (also known as crispers) do not have to store those items, as many fruits and vegetables don’t even have to be in the fridge.  However, they will last longer if you do.

Vegetables tend to require higher humidity and fruits require lower humidity.  You can usually set this function yourself in the drawers and it is worth testing out what works best with the fruits and vegetables that you buy.  The drawers allow for proper airflow with their venting system.

I have a tiered organizer on my countertop where I store bananas, apples, pears, tomatoes, etc. But I only keep out what we will eat within the next 5 days or so and I put the rest in the fridge. Then move more to the tiered unit when those items have been eaten up.  

storing vegetables

Organizing Smaller Items

If you have a lot of small items that you would prefer to keep contained, I would recommend getting some fridge containers. 

For fruits and vegetables that will be used within the week, wash and cut them up immediately and store them in these bins.  Then you can quickly grab them either for a snack or for cooking purposes. 

These containers don’t need to go into the crisper drawers.  Keep only fresh, uncut fruits and vegetables in the drawers.

Meal planning before the next week will ensure that you are only buying what you need for the week.  Which will make it more likely that you will use everything and not have anything going to waste. 

This will generally take up less space in your fridge as well.  That can really help in keeping your fridge clean and looking neat and organized.

How to Organize Your Fridge Based on the Layout

It is important to mention the different fridge layouts available, as the organization strategy will be slightly different for each.

There are many different sizes within each different type of fridge as well, which can make organizing a fridge more challenging.

The basic fridge layouts are:

French door: Typically has two doors that open up into a fairly large fridge.  It provides lots of drawer and shelf space and uses the full width of the fridge.  These fridges often have the freezer portion on the bottom with a pull out drawer.

One door fridge: This is still a nice option, because the full width of the fridge is available, but is often smaller.  The freezer will either be on the top or the bottom.

Side by side: This fridge has the fridge section on one side and the freezer on the other.  These are limiting because typically ⅓ of the width is the freezer and the other ⅔ is the fridge.  You can’t put wide items in the fridge or freezer because of the limited space.

How to Arrange a French Door Refrigerator

Since the french door has two doors that open wide, you can easily fit larger items inside.  This means that you may have space to put items that you would otherwise store elsewhere (such as fruit and bread).

I generally suggest putting leftover food on the top shelf, because the containers are fairly short and it just gives a consistent spot to store leftovers.  They could also go on the middle shelf.  Just make sure to choose a spot and stick with it.  

As already mentioned, if you are thawing meat or if you are putting fresh meat into the fridge to cook later that day, make sure to put it at the bottom.  

I would recommend having juice, milk, water jug, etc…. on the bottom shelf on one side.  These are often heavy containers that you don’t want to be lifting from a higher shelf. 

There is also the chance that the weight may break one of the shelves that is not as well supported.  So it’s just better to put it on a more stable shelf.  This likely means that the shelf above the drinks will need to be moved up, making less space between the middle and top shelves on that side.  

That middle shelf should be able to fit items such as eggs, margarine or butter, hummus, dips, cottage cheese, etc.

Use the fruit, vegetable and cheese drawers (if there is one) accordingly.

The standard condiments, ketchup, mustard, relish, etc., can be stored in the doors.

How to Organize a Small Fridge with One Door

If you buy items in bulk, check to see if the items need to be stored in the fridge right away, or if they could be put in your pantry until they have been opened.  This will save some space in your smaller fridge.

Shelves in a fridge can usually be moved up or down to hold different size items.  So make sure the heavier items, like larger juice containers are on the bottom.  Any uncooked meat should also be at the bottom, to avoid dripping onto other foods.

There will be a drawer for vegetables and a drawer for fruit.  Make sure to set the humidity correctly in these drawers (if possible) to ensure your fruits and vegetables are lasting as long as possible.

If you don’t have a third drawer for cheese, lunch meats, etc… these can be stored on the shelf that has the least amount of height.  They should also be stored further back on the shelf to be closer to the cooling unit in the fridge.  

Smaller containers such as margarine, dips, cottage cheese, sour cream, and other similar items can be stored on the same shelf as the cheese, or if there is no space, put them on the next smallest shelf space.  

The top shelf (or middle shelf if you prefer) should be used for your leftovers.  Make sure to label them so that you know when they should be eaten by.  

organize your fridge

How to Organize a Side by Side Fridge

This style is the most challenging to organize, because the fridge section isn’t very wide.  Buying containers that can stack will be the most helpful in organizing, so that you can fully use the height between the shelves.  

Put the leftovers at the top and large drink containers at the bottom.  You should still have a drawer for fruits and another for vegetables, so make sure to use those appropriately.  

The door can still be used for condiments, pickles, jam, etc…., but you won’t be able to fit as much.

For the remainder of the fridge, buying containers for your eggs and other small items and cutting up fruits and vegetables (if they don’t fit in the drawers) will be essential.  You can then easily stack them and label them.    

Since the space is more limited, make sure you are checking if there are items that can be stored outside of the fridge until they have been opened.  Meal planning for the week will also ensure that you are only ordering what you need for that week.

How To Organize Beer Bottles in the Fridge

storing beer bottles

This seems to be a popular concern, so I thought I would address it here.  If you want to keep a lot of beer chilled at all times, I would suggest getting a small beer fridge.  Otherwise, keep most of the bottles in the beer case until you need them. 

If you know you are only going to drink 3 beers that night, that’s all you need in your main fridge.  Several beer bottles can easily be stored in the door of the fridge.  

If you are having a party, put the beer in a cooler with ice in it, so you have room in your fridge for the food that you will be serving.

Main takeaway is, you really only need what you are planning to consume that day in the main fridge.  Otherwise, you are just using valuable space.  Having chilled beer is nice, but it won’t go bad leaving it in the case until you need it! 🙂

How to Organize the Freezer

If you have a large freezer somewhere else in your home, this is where I would recommend storing most of your frozen foods.  Meats, prepared meals, frozen vegetables/fruit, and more. 

The freezer that is part of your fridge should only contain food that you use frequently or that you have prepared to have in the next few days.  

If you don’t have a separate freezer, you will not be able to have as many prepared meals and frozen foods.  This might mean that you will have to purchase meat for only a few days and then purchase more when you run out.  Any meals made ahead can be stored in the freezer for up to 3-6 months, when sealed properly.

The freezer attached to the fridge should be able to hold a few packages of meat stacked on top of each other, a few dessert items, a frozen meal, frozen vegetables and on one side you could store ice cube trays and ice packs.

You should still keep an eye on expiry dates for frozen foods; however, frozen food can last a long time, so isn’t as concerning.  If your food is getting a lot of frost on top, it likely won’t have as much flavour and should be tossed at that point.

How Do You Organize Food in Kitchen Cabinets?

Storing Food in a Pantry

If you have a pantry, you should have plenty of room for storing food and maybe even items such as paper bags, Ziploc bags, paper towel, etc….

Pantries often have limitations where the drawers can be placed or where the shelves can go. So larger items may only be able to fit in the existing taller areas.  If something doesn’t fit where you want to put it, purchase separate containers that will fit in the space.  You don’t have to be limited to the containers that food comes in.

Put the food items that you use the most at eye level in your pantry, heavier items towards the bottom and lighter or less used items at the top. 

Baking items (flour, sugar, baking soda, etc.) are stored up high in my pantry because they aren’t used often (unfortunately). I use these storage containers for my baking items and I liked them so much that I ordered another set recently.  

organize your pantry

If you have kids, I would recommend putting what you are comfortable with them grabbing themselves at the bottom of the pantry.  Anything that you want to keep for only special times should be put at the top of the pantry, out of their reach.

Potatoes, Onions, Bread and Canned Goods

Potatoes should be taken out of the bag and put in a bin for better airflow.  It’s also easier to see how many potatoes are remaining.

Onions that have not been cut up can be stored in the pantry.  Keep them in a spot where you can clearly see them, so that you don’t forget they are in there.  If you are not using them within the week, transfer them to the vegetable crisper drawer in the fridge.

Bread that will be used within the week can be stored in the pantry or a bread box.  Otherwise, bread can be stored for 2-3 weeks in the fridge and 3-6 months in the freezer.

I have another post on how to store canned goods.  Canned food lasts a long time, so is okay to purchase in bulk. Just make sure you have a space prepared to hold that many cans. 

Storing Spices

Spices can either be stored on your countertop or pantry in a nice spice holder.  I would recommend getting a spice holder that you can easily see what spices are available. So you can grab them easily when you need them for cooking. 

Make sure to label them in a clear spot!  If you are viewing them at a higher level, put the label on the side.  If they are lower in the pantry, put the label on the top.  Keep in mind that spices do expire! So you should also label the spices with the expiry date or the date purchased. 

According to McCormick’s; dried spices, herbs and seasonings in jars are good for 1-2 years. 

Vanilla extract and salt are good for a long period, potentially forever. 

Whole spices (unground peppercorns, caraway seeds, etc..) are good for 3-4 years. 

Ground spices (cumin, ginger, paprika, chili powder) 2-4 years. 

Ground and whole leafy herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary) are good for 1-3 years.

storing spices

Storing Food in Cabinets

Storing food in standard cabinets may be more limiting as to what you can fit in there.  Try to keep all food in the same general area.  Lighter items can go in an upper cabinet. Then the remainder of the food can go in the lower cabinet directly under that cabinet.  

Items like cereal boxes tend to be quite bulky and would likely be better in a lower cabinet.  I recommend getting different containers for cereal that seal well.  Otherwise, the boxes tend to get mangled and don’t close well, making the food stale.

If you are storing your food in upper cabinets, the food used frequently should be stored at eye level. Everything else can be stored higher up in the cabinet.  If you don’t have enough space for spices, store them in a cabinet closer to your oven where you will use them the most. 

Canned goods can be stored alongside the cereal boxes in the lower cabinet. Anything heavier should also be stored there, to avoid lifting.

Conclusion

Once you have a system in place to keep your food organized and begin checking expiry dates regularly, you will see that organizing the food is not very time consuming.  It will be easier to find what you need quickly and your fridge will look more clean.

Each person will have different food items in their fridge and pantry. So you may find that you will need to organize slightly different than what is suggested here. 

However, remember that if you are having a hard time fitting everything nicely, you likely need to cut down on how much food you buy each week.  Only buy what you will actually use that week.

I hope you have found this post helpful to organize your fridge and pantry and making sure that you are using everything before it goes bad.

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