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Did you know that the average American wastes well over 200 pounds of food each year? The development of the home refrigerator in 1913 was supposed to reduce food waste, but we are wasting more food now than ever before with overstuffed, disorganized refrigerators. Even though folks hate wasting food, we still seem to forget about the food we have, until it’s too late. With a few helpful organizing tips, reminders, and new habits, you will reduce your food waste to save time and money!

The steps in which you organize your refrigerator differs from other areas in your house in that you’ll want to start with a purge, as there are likely expired, moldy or otherwise gross things in there! Doing this first will also serve as motivation to take the steps needed to never let it get this bad again.

Before you begin the purge, get a cooler or two (or three). Put a layer of ice in the coolers to keep items cold while you complete this step, as the fridge door will be open for a while. If you are nervous about keeping the fridge open for so long, just remember your last trip to Costco – those refrigerated items were out of the fridge for a significant amount of time and they survived.

OK, get a trash can and start the purge! Be sure to open all containers and look for signs of contamination or spoilage. Look for discoloration and changes in texture. Smell everything for off odors. Consider also throwing out items you only use a couple times a year to reduce the clutter in there, so that you can find what you want every time you open your fridge.

Once everything is out of the refrigerator, give it a quick wipe down. Now, it’s time to move everything to their new home! You will need clear containers for smaller items (eggs, juice boxes, individual yogurt, snacks, etc.). Containers can also be easily removed from the fridge to find what you need, without keeping the fridge open.

The following is Weir Organized’s recommendations for arranging your refrigerator – it’s how my refrigerator is organized. Keep in mind that your diet and refrigerator configuration might require some modifications.

Top Shelf – Since this is the largest space it holds large dairy containers and pickled/fermented items. The tallest items go in the back so everything can be seen.

Mid-Top Shelf – Eggs and smaller dairy or pickled items go here. Adjusting your shelves so that this is the shelf with the smallest vertical space will allow you to better see items on the shelves below eye level. This is also where you want to reserve an open space for food prep – slow thawing of meats or seafood to be cooked. Be sure to do this on a plate, so that other food isn’t contaminated.

Mid-Bottom Shelf – Vegetables usually can’t all fit in the crisper drawer below, especially large leafy greens. This shelf in the middle of the fridge makes it a great place for larger vegetables, as well as berries and watermelon. These fruits are susceptible to rotting faster if they are placed in the drawer below with other fruits.

Bottom Shelf – Leftovers live here so that they are easily seen. This is also a great place to keep a container of healthy snacks for the kiddos – If they see it right when they open the refrigerator, they will be more likely to choose to eat it! Extra drinks can go in the back to keep them cold, but leftover containers are always in front to help ensure they are eaten before they become food waste.

Top Drawer – Meats and cheeses are traditionally placed here. Larger items are in the back and older items are near the front.

Middle Drawer – Vegetables do best with low humidity, if you are able to set this in your refrigerator. As with other areas of your refrigerator, large items are in the back and older items go in the front to ensure they are used.

Bottom Drawer – Fruits and melons need low humidity in order to slow down rot caused by ethylene gas released during ripening. Keep fruits in the very bottom drawer, the furthest away from other produce that may ripen too fast due to the ethylene gas they create.

Upper Door Items – Sodas go in the top. The most used condiments and sauces go on these shelves as well.

Middle Door (Large) Items – Tall and large beverage items go here.

Lower Door Items – Less used condiments and sauces go on these shelves, grouping like with like – such as all the Asian items together, all the Mexican items together, etc.

As a final step, make custom mini-chalk board labels for each shelf to help everyone in the family remember which items go on each shelf. To harp on it again – In order to reduce waste keep older items in the front and newer items in the back at all times. Make it a habit to do this every time you get home from the grocery store.

Keeping your refrigerator organized will save you time, money and reduce stress. It will also make your meal planning even easier – for more on that, check out the Save Yourself with Meal Planning blog. Of course, food organizing doesn’t end with the refrigerator. You can take a very similar approach with the freezer, but the process is different for dry goods – how to organize your pantry will be the topic in my next blog.