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Do's and Don'ts of Refrigerator Storage

Written by Danielle Travali.

A refrigerator stuffed with fresh food is a major blessing in life. But a fridge filled with random tubs of mysterious grub from who-knows-when can be a total hassle when you’re searching for something delicious, nutritious and fresh to eat. Here’s our list of basic DOs and DON’Ts of storing food in your refrigerator.

Here are the DOs:

  • DO line each shelf in your fridge with rubber gripping foam. This will help keep the shelves neat. If you need to throw the shelf lining away, you can easily place more down on the shelves. It’s very inexpensive to do so.
  • DO organize and separate food on the appropriate shelves. Be sure to return the following items to the spots in which you first placed them. For example: Top shelf: Cartons, pitchers and containers of beverages such as milk, orange juice, and water. Middle shelf (the one most easily at arms’ reach): Leftovers and food that needs to be consumed or cooked in a matter of days. Bottom shelf: Cheeses / dairy products and meats. Fridge crisper drawers: Keep lettuces and veggies in there. Shelves on the doors: Condiments, spreads, jams, jellies, etc.
  • DO keep plastic and glass food containers organized, and be sure to write the date of use on the top with a dry erase marker. Dry erase markers are best because they wipe off easily when you need to reuse the containers.
  • DO clean up after your messes. If you accidentally spill something inside the fridge, wipe it up right away. If you don’t, the food or liquid will dry and get stuck indefinitely to the inside of the fridge.  
  • DO know when to discard each food item. Clean your fridge regularly. Toss anything that looks wilted, or anything that has reached its expiration date. If it smells funny, it’s got to go in the garbage. The USDA states that this may be a sign of harmful bacteria growing in or on the food. 

The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA reports that something called “Open Dating” (the use of a calendar date stamped on a food product) determines how long a store can display a food product for sale. This is not a safety date or expiration date. After the date passes, the food should be okay to consume as long as it’s kept at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. See the storage times listed below to know how long you can safely keep each type of food in the fridge. The USDA explains that if a product has a “use-by” date, you should use the product by that date. You should cook or freeze anything with a “sell-by” date.  For example, if the sell-by date is March 11, 2012, you should cook or freeze the food by that date.

Here’s the low-down on the types of food consumption dates:

“Sell-By" means you should buy the product before the date listed on the product.

"Best if Used By (or Before)" means the product will taste the freshest if used by or before the listed date. It’s not for safety reasons.

Here are the DON’Ts:

  • DON’T buy unnecessary amounts of food. Not only is it a waste to do so, but it can easily clutter your refrigerator and cause havoc when it’s time to clean out the fridge.
  • DON’T over-clutter your fridge with foods that do not necessarily need to be stored in there. Check the label to know whether an item requires refrigeration.
  • DON’T put an item in the fridge without properly wrapping it for storage. Be sure to always put the lid on correctly--whether you’re storing peanut butter or a plastic container filled with last night’s pot roast.
  • DON’T simply toss food into the fridge. Be sure to place each food item neatly in its proper place. If you fail to do this, your fridge will become an over-cluttered eyesore.

Keep your fridge clean and you’ll significantly minimize the stress level in your life! After all, we rely on the refrigerator to keep our delicious, nourishing foods safe so we can enjoy them longer and feed our bodies the nutrition they need. So let’s have a little respect for our fridge and the items inside of it.


Danielle Travali, MS
Danielle Travali, MS

Danielle Travali, also known to many as the Web and television personality "Holly Pinafore," is a journalist, entrepreneur, and food & wine enthusiast. She is a certified food coach, stress management coach and fitness trainer who studied mindful eating and food psychology. Danielle also holds a master's degree in Journalism from Quinnipiac Un.. Read more

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