chef fridge organization

You Should Be Organizing Your Refrigerator Like a Chef – Here's How

It’s easier than you think.
By Laura Denby
July 14, 2021
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When it comes to refrigerator organization, professional chefs have it down to a science. In restaurant kitchens, an organized refrigerator can mean the difference between a streamlined dinner service and a frenzied disaster. Though organization is key for efficiency, there's an even more important reason to have a food storage system–it helps cut down on waste and prevents food-borne illnesses. With all these benefits, why not emulate restaurant refrigerators at home? These are organization basics you need to know, and the food storage containers you need to create an organized refrigerator any chef would admire.

Organize By Temperature

First things first: ingredients that need to be cooked should never be stored on top of anything that can be served raw. When thinking about how to organize your refrigerator, keep temperature and gravity in mind. Foods that are harmful when eaten raw (like chicken) should always be stored on the bottom. That way, if anything drips or spills, there's no concern of contaminating other fresh produce. Foods that are already thoroughly cooked or foods that can be enjoyed uncooked, like fruit, vegetables, and leftovers should be stored at the top, to lower the risk of contamination. 

Repeat After Me: "First In, First Out"

If you find that you throw out food more often than you'd like, your storage practices might be to blame. Chefs are taught to memorize the mantra "first in, first out," when stocking refrigerator shelves because it helps cut down on food waste. When putting away multiple units of the same food, always put the older unit towards the front, that way you're more likely to use it first. If you bought a pint of berries on Tuesday and another on Saturday, place the new set at the back when putting them away. That way, the Saturday berries won't get touched until you've eaten the Tuesday berries. 

To make sure you're using food efficiently, keep a permanent marker and some labels handy. Taking the time to label foods makes it easier to remember when you bought them, but also helps keep purchase dates top-of-mind. 

Keep it Contained

The first thing that restaurants do when they receive a food delivery is transfer any loose goods into durable containers. Designate different containers for different items, and utilize heavy-duty containers to store everything from raw meat to loose citrus. That way, messes are easily contained and any germs won't spread. To cut down on time spent digging into the back of my fridge for one rogue lemon, I like to store all of my raw meat in one container and my fruit, veggies, and dairy in various others. That way, I can just grab my designated citrus bin and carry on. 

It's also a good idea to transfer delicate items (like eggs) out of their cardboard containers and into more sturdy plastic egg dividers. In fact, cardboard is known to attract bugs, so it's best to steer clear of storing any cardboard or paper products in the refrigerator.

Though these organization tips might seem time-consuming, they'll become a habit before you know it. Keeping an organized food storage system is an easy way to cut down on waste at home, and will ensure that you keep your family safe from foodborne illnesses and toxins. To get started, we've rounded up our favorite food storage containers for the refrigerator. 

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organizers
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Set of 4 Clear Fridge Organizers

Keeping foods separate is key to preventing cross-contamination. These bins make it easy to see what you're working with while containing any potentially hazardous leaks or spills. I prefer to keep any packages of raw meat in a designated container, that way I give myself an extra layer of protection in case any juices were to seep out of the packaging. It also makes cleaning up much easier!

To buy: Set of 4 Fridge Organizers, $15 (originally $27) at amazon.com 

greensaver
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OXO Good Grips Produce Saver

Delicate fruits like raspberries and blackberries will last longer if you store them properly. This durable container from Oxo is stronger than the plastic or cardboard berry bins you get at the farmer's market, and therefore makes it easier to stack vulnerable produce without crushing it. Pro tip? Wait to wash berries until you're ready to eat them. 

To buy: Oxo Good Grips Produce Saver, $13 (originally $15) at amazon.com 

food storage container
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Rubbermaid Brilliance 24-Piece Food Containers

These locking food containers create an airtight seal that helps keep foods fresher for longer. Ideal for leftovers of any size, they can be stacked in the refrigerator and placed directly into the dishwasher. 

To buy: Rubbermaid Brilliance 24-Piece Food Containers, $40 at amazon.com 

refrigerator product
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Rubbermaid Commercial 12-Quart Food Container

When marinating or brining, it's best to have a container that can accommodate large quantities of liquid without spilling or sloshing. This industrial-grade container can be used to brine a whole chicken in the refrigerator or to store bulk dry goods in the pantry.

To buy: Rubbermaid Commercial 12-Quart Food Container, $21 (originally $25) at amazon.com 

egg container
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Scotty's Refrigerator Egg Bin

Eggs are particularly delicate, so it's a good idea to store them in something more sturdy than cardboard. This plastic container keeps them safe from stacking and makes it easy to see how many you have left. 

To buy: Scotty's Refrigerator Egg Bin, $10 at amazon.com

freezer labels
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Removable Freezer Labels

Labeling food is essential in restaurant kitchens. To help cut down on food waste and to save yourself from the dreaded sniff-test, keep a permanent marker and some labels on hand. If you're not sure if something is still good, you can save yourself the anxiety by knowing exactly when it was purchased.

To buy: Removable Freezer Labels, $8 (originally $9) at amazon.com

food storage
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Plastic Deli Food Containers

All loose foods must be put away properly to avoid cross-contamination. That includes cut lemons, nubs of ginger and loose garlic cloves. These deli containers help to keep all the odd bits and pieces floating around in your vegetable drawer safe, clean, and fresh. The locking lids prevent spills and the streamlined design makes them easy to stack. 

To buy: Plastic Deli Food Containers, $19 at amazon.com