America creates more food waste than any other country in the world. That is not a title to be proud of. Most of the food items that are thrown out are fresh fruits and vegetables that have been stored improperly or forgotten about in the deep recesses of the fridge. That’s food that likely would have been eaten if the refrigerator was properly organized.

One of the best ways to reduce food waste is to store your food correctly and to eat it promptly. Here are some simple rules for food storage and refrigerator organization to make sure your produce lasts long as possible.

1. Store Greens Properly.

Some of the most finicky foods we store in the fridge are leafy greens like kale, arugula, and spinach. When you get home from the grocery store or market with your greens, pick out and discard any leaves that may be prematurely wilting. Put greens in labeled gallon-sized ziplock bags lined with dry paper towels or reusable linens.

Use the correct crisper setting

Do not wash your greens until you are ready to eat them. Even if you spin the washed greens in a salad spinner before putting them in a bag, they will still wilt faster than unwashed greens. Keep your dry greens in a low humidity crisper drawer on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator, away from moisture and away from the coldest parts of your refrigerator.

Keep herbs humid and not too cold

For soft herbs such as parsley, cilantro and basil, a humid bubble is their ideal home. Parsley and cilantro love to be rolled up like cozy, green babies in lightly damp paper towels and tucked into a plastic bag or sealed storage container.

Cilantro
Cilantro and green onions wrapped for proper storage

Basil likes for its stems to be placed in a mason jar filled up half-way with water. Cover the basil in the jar with an upside down baggie and this temperamental herb will survive for a week or more. Keep all herbs away from the colder sections of your fridge.

2. Know What You Have On Hand

Organizing your fridge so that the produce is more visible will make sure you actually use it. Don’t set yourself up for failure by buying some gorgeous carrots and then throw them at the back of your fridge where you will inevitably forget all about them. Give those carrots the fighting chance they deserve.

Use stackable storage containers.

Putting fruits and veggies in clear stackable food storage containers will help create a system where you can clearly see and easily access the items you need. Also, having a look at all of your produce every time you grab something will help keep you reminded of what you have.

If you have been guilty of throwing out leftovers, a good solution is to put them on the top shelf where they will be the most visible when you peer into your fridge. Amazon has some good options for stackable glass tupperware that is perfect for any amount of leftovers

3. Keep Things In The Right Place.

Do not store dairy items in the door compartment as it is the warmest part of the fridge.

Not all refrigerator real estate is created equal. The back of your fridge will usually be the coldest. Use this space for keeping juice, water, and anything else you wouldn’t mind getting a little icy.

The best place to store dairy items in a fridge

Allocate your middle shelf for storing dairy products such as milk, cream and yogurt. Keep eggs on this shelf as well. Do not store these items in the door. The door is the warmest part of the fridge, so use that section for items high in sugar or vinegar since they will have the longest shelf life.

The right place to keep meat in the fridge

Keep raw meat in a lined crisper drawer at the bottom of your fridge so that juices may not leak down onto other foods.

Where to keep other fruits and vegetables

Not every fruit or vegetable belongs in the fridge.

Don’t take up valuable space in your fridge with foods that are perfectly happy outside of it. Fruits that need more ripening, citrus fruits, onions, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes and fresh laid eggs are all better left out at room temperature.

4. Plan Your Attack.

Using all of your produce in time can take some extra planning, but it can be very rewarding. Write down what needs to be eaten first and then formulate plans for meal prep. You can then start a grocery list on another post-it, and when you are ready to go to the store, just peel it off the fridge and go.

Check expiration dates.

For items that have expiration dates, take that info with a grain of salt. Use your nose to judge if something is good. Your nose knows more than you may expect. If it smells nasty or if it is moldy, toss it. If the expiration date was a few days ago and everything looks and smells fine, it’s fair game.

Preserve vegetables and fruits before they go bad.

If you have veggies that you won’t be able to eat in time, preserve them for a later use. There is a wealth of information on the web about making pickles, jams, preserves, fruit leathers, butters and ferments.

5. Only Buy What You Need

Fridge organization starts at the grocery store; buy only what you know you can eat before it has a chance to go bad. Don’t buy six avocados only to eat three of them and shamefully toss the rest. More frequent grocery or market trips will help you be able to keep a tighter inventory.

It’s a fun challenge to try and eat all the veggies you have before you go back to the store. Setting constraints like that on yourself can actually help to fuel culinary creativity. If you keep a kitchen loaded with non-perishable staples like flour, sugar, salt and oil, trips to the store to pick up a few veggies become less of a hassle.

A diet including a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables and meats is surely the healthy way to eat. Just make sure than you keep a close eye on on the natural aging process of your produce. And the next time you are about to throw out that apple that is a little soft, think about the entire process. The energy that has been spent planting, watering, harvesting, and transporting your food for you is remarkable–don’t let it be in vain.

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Jonathan West