Experts estimate that around 40% of food in the United States is wasted. While much of that is generated by the food and restaurant industries, another chunk of it is generated by households like yours. How often do you go through your refrigerator or freezer and throw out food that has gone bad? How much money are you throwing away?
Organization can significantly reduce this waste in two ways. First, if you can easily see what is in your fridge, you are more likely to eat it before it goes bad. Second, if you know what you have, you won’t buy more because you forgot what was in there.
Whether you are dealing with the fridge or the freezer there are a few steps you need to master before you begin organizing.
- Know food storage temperatures. Some foods need to be chilled while others can be left out. Certain types of food freeze well while others do not. If you’re not sure which is which, do a bit of research or seek out a simple guide that you can put on your refrigerator door until you get the hang of it.
- Have a labeling system. This applies not just to things you cook or freeze yourself. If you have take out or open a container of prepared food, put that date on the box or jar. It’s also a good idea for items going into the freezer or takeout containers to write what it is as well as the date. Consider labeling the different sections of your freezer and fridge so that everyone in the family knows what goes where. Designate a place to keep masking tape and sharpie or label gun.
- Invest in good containers. Some food bags are specifically designed for freezer temperatures while others are good in the fridge. Buy glass containers for food that will be microwaved and durable plastic for the freezer. If you want to purchase bins or boxes to help group things in either location, make sure they are the right size and material for your use. You may want to buy specialty items like egg containers or carafes for beverages.
Placement is the most important element in organizing your refrigerator. There are numerous guides available, and your specific appliance model may come with one. Usually you will keep produce separate from meats and each will have its designated bin. The coldest temperatures will be found in the center of your fridge and the warmest in the door. Items that drip should go on the lowest shelves.
You will want to create a system for rotating the food in your refrigerator as you do in your cabinets. Items that are older or have a shorter shelf life should be located near the front of the shelf or bin so that they will be used. As new items are added, put them towards the back. This is where labeling can help you keep track of what is in danger of expiring.
If you batch cook, you may want to create a labeled section of your fridge for each day of the week. That way everyone knows where to find Wednesday’s lunches or Friday’s dinner. Or you may want to label a specific shelf or box as “eat first.”
How you freeze things is as important as what you freeze. It is a good idea to freeze things in flat containers or bags. If you have access to one of the vacuum devices that remove the air, that is even better. It is also a good idea to freeze according to future use or portions rather than in large containers that then have to be broken down later. If you buy frozen items in bulk, such as meat or prepared food, it’s a good idea to transfer them into your own containers to achieve the portions you want.
Organizers are especially useful in a freezer, where it is easier to forget what you have. Use plastic boxes or tubs to group similar items together, such as soups, vegetables, breakfast foods, etc. A simple label on the box will remind you what goes where and where to find what you’re looking for.
As with the fridge, you’ll want to create a system for rotating older items to the front and placing newer items in the back. And the same temperature rules applies: coldest storage is in the center of the freezer and warmest is the door, so don’t keep ice cream containers in the door.
Most people come home from a shopping trip so tired that they just throw things into the freezer or fridge and forget about it. By creating an organized system ahead of time, it will be a snap to throw things into their designated places and put an end to food waste.