Chill out: How to manage your fridge, shelf by shelf

Chill out: How to manage your fridge, shelf by shelf

There are some key rules to obey when it comes to your refrigerator. But you don’t have to turn into Marie Kondo, writes Sharon Ní Chonchúir. Shops are always at an ambient temperature, not like homes with temperature fluctuations.

MAIRE Kondo keeps hers 30% empty to allow space for shopping and leftovers. Khloe Kardashian’s is colour-coded. Oprah Winfrey has proudly posted photos of the Tupperware containers containing time-saving pre-chopped vegetables that are stacked up in hers.

So, what’s your fridge like?

Now the holidays are almost over and everyone is returning to work and school, is it as well organised as it could be?

Having a well-stocked fridge makes a huge difference when time is at a premium. If you know just where you can find ham and cheese, you can make that day’s school sandwiches in minutes. 

Or if you can quickly lay your hands on last night’s leftover chicken, some potatoes, salad leaves, herbs, and mayonnaise, dinner can be on the table before you know it. 

It sounds simple but there is a lot to bear in mind when it comes to managing your fridge.

Keep your cool

According to Dr Máiréad McCann, a technical executive in food science with Safefood, the most important thing is to maintain the right temperature.

“It’s vital that you keep your fridge between 0C and 5C as that’s the temperature range that slows down the growth of bacteria on food,” she says.

“If food goes beyond five degrees, bacteria will start to grow, and it could grow to the point that it makes you ill.”

How can you make sure your fridge never exceeds this range? “Check that the door closes properly,” says McCann.

Don’t pack the fridge too full of food as this can stop air from circulating freely, which could mean that food doesn’t get chilled enough. And don’t put leftovers in the fridge while they’re still hot. Cool them down first.

She recommends keeping a thermometer in the fridge to be on the safe side. “A lot of people rely on the numbers on their fridge thermostat but that 1,2 3, may not necessarily correspond to temperature readings,” she says. 

“Only a thermometer can tell you how hot or cold your fridge really is.”

What goes where

Where you store food in the fridge is also important. What you want is to prevent germs from raw food spreading to ready-to-eat foods.

“Basically, this means keeping foods that don’t need to be cooked — cooked meats, salads, or leftovers, for example — away from uncooked meats, fish, and poultry,” says McCann.

Marie Kondo
Marie Kondo

“Store foods that don’t need to be cooked on the top shelf. Store eggs and dairy on the middle shelf and store uncooked meats, fish, and poultry covered in sealed containers on the bottom shelf so that they can’t drop down to contaminate any other food.”

All fruit and vegetables should be kept in sealed bags or containers in the salad drawers. 

“Don’t forget to wash raw fruit and vegetables before you eat them,” says McCann.

Some people are confused about the foods that do and don’t belong in the fridge.

Take eggs, for example. Most fridge doors have special slots for them, yet many people argue that eggs should be kept at room temperature. 

“This is because they see that they’re not stored in the fridge in the supermarket,” says McCann.

“What they don’t realise is that supermarkets are always at an ambient temperature, not like homes where there are big fluctuations in temperature. This is why we recommend keeping eggs in the middle shelf of the fridge where the temperature is most constant.”

Sauces such as ketchup should go in the fridge too. 

“Recipe formulations have changed over the years and a lot of these items have less salt and sugar than they used to have,” says McCann. 

This means they have to be kept in the fridge once they’ve been opened. If you’re at all unsure, just read the manufacturer’s instructions on the packaging.

Items that don’t belong in the fridge include bread, cakes, and chocolate. 

“We also advise people not to put open cans of food in the fridge,” says McCann.

“After these have been opened to the air, the tin from the can transfers more quickly to the can’s contents and can taint the food. Transfer the canned goods to a clean container instead. Cover it and then put it in the fridge.”

Quick response

Leftovers can be particularly problematic when it comes to refrigeration. 

“I’ve already said that they shouldn’t be placed in the fridge while they’re still warm as this can disrupt the fridge’s temperature,” says McCann.

However, they shouldn’t be allowed to sit at room temperature for too long either.

Leftovers are supposed to be refrigerated within two hours of being cooked, which can be difficult to achieve if it’s a big hunk of meat. 

“Do whatever it takes to cool it down quickly,” says McCann. “Slice it up if necessary and then once it goes into the fridge, make sure it’s properly covered and eaten within three days.”

Spilling the beans

Marie Kondo probably cleans her fridge every day, but McCann doesn’t believe we all ought to strive for such high standards. 

Her advice is to deal with any spillages immediately and then clean the fridge once a week. 

“Take everything out and clean the surfaces with hot soapy water and then rinse them off before drying with a clean towel.”

Chill out: How to manage your fridge, shelf by shelf

Be careful what products you use. 

“Don’t use abrasive cleaners as they might damage the surfaces and don’t use strong-smelling cleaners as they could taint the flavour of the food.”

When you’re putting the food back into the fridge, McCann recommends scanning all use-by dates as you do so. 

“These dates are not the same as best-before dates,” she says. 

“A use-by date is a safety instruction and you should throw out any food that has gone past its date. Best-before dates refer to quality. You won’t get sick if you eat food that has past its best-before date. It just mightn’t taste as good as it usually does.”

Organising your fridge doesn’t require colour coding or subjecting it to the Kondo method. Keep your fridge cool and clean and make sure food is properly stored and safe to eat. 

That way, you’re more likely to stay on top of provisions, use them in a timely manner, and feed the family safely.

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