How do you keep your refrigerator organized?
April 26, 2018 8:19 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to improve/DIY/"lifehack" my fridge to reduce waste and make it easier to keep track of what we have. What are your elite icebox strategies?

Here are the problems we have right now:

- stuff getting pushed all the way to the back, where it is forgotten for months at a time
- the produce drawers are too small for the amount of produce we usually buy, but I'm not sure how best to store produce outside of the drawers
- little leftover odds n' ends all over the place (like half a lemon in plastic wrap)
posted by overeducated_alligator to Home & Garden (47 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
You don't mention a surplus of cheese but--- cheese box.
posted by athirstforsalt at 8:22 AM on April 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

1) have specific places for specific things - I have a breakfast shelf, a dinners shelf etc, and of course an entire condiments shelf
2) keep the ice box for salads, keep other produce in its plastic wrappers (insert applicable storage system here)
3) only buy things you need for the meals you have planned
4) weekly meal plan writing is done next to the fridge, as you check what's to be eaten and incorporate it asap, and chuck out anything you won't eat any more
posted by london explorer girl at 8:24 AM on April 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

We took out a shelf in our fridge so there was less place to hide. A counter-depth fridge, while $$$, also really helps with things not being able to be too far back and get lost.
posted by neematoad at 8:28 AM on April 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

On top of everything London Explorer mentioned above:

* Twice a month, pull everything of the fridge and then re-organize it. You'll probably end up putting things back in exactly where they were before, but it'll be neater, and the mere act of pulling everything out and looking at it will cement in your head "oh yeah, I have this" and you'll be more likely to use it once you've reminded yourself it exists.

* Decanting things into smaller containers as necessary. If you have the big jar of pickles which is mostly empty except for two little pickles, and leave it like that, then you won't see the jar of peanut butter right behind it. But if you take those two pickles out of the big jar and put them into a smaller jar, then you can see the peanut butter behind it. Plus this makes more room in your fridge as you get rid of large mostly-empty containers.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:32 AM on April 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

I like having boxes on the shelves to corral the multiples, especially those that get used simultaneously and/or get put out on the table to give people a choice: the mustards, the jams, the salad dressings. You can just grab the whole box. That frees up space in the doors to house more current use stuff, which means it’s easier to see and therefore gets used. It’s counterintuitive but it works.
posted by carmicha at 8:39 AM on April 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

I always put things in the same places—drinks in one place, condiments in the door, snack things on the top shelf, cheese in the cheese drawer, fresh stuff in the two fresh drawers. Partly this is to help my mother—who has dementia—find things she can eat without cooking. I have to keep the fridge kind of empty and definitely fresh so she won't eat anything bad but will still be able to find things. Also I have clear shelves so it makes it really easy to see anything.

My challenge is when I have leftovers from somewhere. I don't have a great place for those so they sit on top of other things and block the view of the rest of the stuff on that shelf. So maybe solve that, if you have a similar problem.

Also, I clean it out weekly on trash day.
posted by clone boulevard at 8:42 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Not shopping at Costco helps. I like how cheap it is to buy 4 dozen eggs at a time there, but a big hulking cube of eggs sits in my fridge like a gorilla, making it nearly impossible to reach much of the rest of the space. I got so frustrated with my refrigerator I started to avoid opening it.
posted by puddledork at 8:45 AM on April 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

I use clear storage boxes like these as "drawers" on my top shelf for jars of condiments/jams etc so they don't get pushed back. They are easy to lift out as needed. They come in all shapes & sizes.

For Produce I use these. They are amazing, stuff really does last longer & they stack neatly on the main shelf where we remember to use them. One drawer is for large veg like cabbages the other one is now for snacks.

I have an odds & ends box, just a simple rubbermaid tupperware type thing for random bits of onions & half lemons/limes, it lives in my door. My husband calls it the box where food scraps go to die. But I know they're there if I need them. I try to use them up for lunches as I have lunch at home every day.
posted by wwax at 8:55 AM on April 26, 2018 [11 favorites]

Some things don't have to be refrigerated -- and some things shouldn't be.

You can keep honey, maple syrup, and peanut butter in a cool and dry pantry. Potatoes, peppers, bananas, tomatoes, pears, and lots of other not-quite-ripe produce are much happier outside the fridge than in it.
posted by mochapickle at 8:57 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I rearrange the fridge whenever we get groceries, about once per week. Rotate old-but-still-good stuff to the front, toss gross stuff, write an approximate date on the half-used tomato sauce that I should have written on it the night I opened it, put the borderline bag of lettuce front-and-center to force me to acknowledge it, that sort of thing. Having a regular time to do it, and having that regular time happen pretty frequently, helps a lot.

Our current fridge has a big wide shelf on the bottom that claims to be for cold cuts but which was obviously made to hold a large pizza box. When it doesn't have a pizza box in it, it fits a ton of flat wide stuff (cheese, eggs, flatter produce like cucumbers/bags of carrots) and makes the rest of the fridge much less cluttered. If I end up with a fridge without this feature in the future, I'll probably make a low wide shelf with a slide-out bottom that fits in somewhere, because I love it so much.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:10 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

1) Every time I put away groceries, I pull out anything dubious.

2) Clear containers for everything. Tin foil is a cloak of invisibility for leftovers.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:19 AM on April 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

Seconding the folks who are using narrow clear plastic tubs for small things, I have two on different shelves. One is for cheese/cured meats/snacks and one is for small fiddly things like a small bottle of walnut syrup or half an onion.

I also have one of these elevated wire racks in the bottom (which gives me a fourth shelf) so I can put excess produce/big egg cartons above and meat below -- meat always goes at the bottom in case it leaks.

You didn't mention how many people are eating out of or using your fridge, so maybe this doesn't apply to you, but I also just plain stopped buying that much food in one go. I don't shop in bulk anymore because it historically always creates waste for me, regardless of how organized my fridge is. I make my grocery store trips only after I've eaten most of what I have, which means my pantry and fridge get pretty empty between visits. One of the positive outcomes of this change is that the fridge almost never smells bad because nothing ever sits rotting away inside it.
posted by Snacks at 9:25 AM on April 26, 2018

I use a combination of clear storage boxes (plastic shoeboxes, nothing fancy) and trays. The trays are great because they let me slide foods forward to get to what’s in the back. I have one with yogurts and another with pickles and pickley things.
posted by OrangeVelour at 9:27 AM on April 26, 2018

We eat a lot of produce, so I find it helpful to keep a running tally of what's in the fridge on a whiteboard. (ie, 3 turnips, 1/2 onion, green beans) This helps with meal planning, too, as I know at a glance what needs to be used up. Every weekend before grocery shopping, we make sure the inventory is correct and make sure there's nothing lurking.

I also use produce-specific containers (similar to what wwax linked), which helps things last longer. They live in front on one of shelves, and we're both used to looking there first for a half lime or partial onion or whatever odds and ends are begging to be used.

Finally, I had to break myself of the "buy more because it's on sale" mentality when it comes to perishables, as it's really not a good deal if you end up having to toss it.
posted by writermcwriterson at 9:30 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Regarding your question about produce storage outside the produce drawer:

If you do put produce into the produce drawer make sure the slider, if it has one, is set to high moisture. Outside the drawer, your fridge has low humidity, not good for veggie storage. So, with a lot of produce, like asparagus, beets, kale, green onions, carrots — anything that has a root tip or a stem that will absorb moisture — I wrap a wet, double paper towel around the roots or stem ends, then put the whole bunch into a tightly-closed plastic bag. You can store them anywhere in the fridge that way and they will last much longer. With radishes, I trim the greens, put a wet paper towel into the bottom of a storage container, put the radishes in so all the roots touch the towel if possible. They'll last for two weeks that way.

The key is to to spend some time after shopping to properly package the stuff, instead of just cramming it into the fridge.
posted by beagle at 9:31 AM on April 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Not fridge organization, but maybe a fridge-related lifehack? Whenever I make something with flexible ingredients (salad, pizza, soup, etc), I pull out everything in the fridge that might make sense to use in the dish. That way, I see that, for example, my mint is on its last legs, so I should toss it in the salad and make lemon-tahini rather than balsamic dressing. That way everything perishable at least gets examined every day or two and I can prioritize using up anything that looks like it might wilt or rot soon.
posted by snaw at 9:31 AM on April 26, 2018 [9 favorites]

No advice to offer (except maybe don't eat the plums anyone is saving, okay) I'm just chiming in to ask: HOW DO YOU ALL REMEMBER TO USE UP YOUR HERBS? They die in like three days, damn, it's like I can't have one lazy/procrastinating evening without losing $6 jillion in herbs alone.
posted by MiraK at 9:44 AM on April 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

This is slightly tangential to the actual organisation of the refrigerator, but my mother keeps two lists on the outside of hers - one is "what do we need" and the other is "what did we toss instead of using recently". Observing patterns in the second list is really helpful for realising stuff like "we never eat bagged salad in time before it goes bad" etc.
posted by terretu at 9:46 AM on April 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

Have you Marie Kondo'd your fridge?

By that, I mean, are you shuffling around things in the fridge that you don't really enjoy, that you feel like you should eat because you spend (a lot of) money on them, or that you know someday you're going to come across the perfect recipe for?

Get those things out of your fridge.

Next, strategize around type. Do you really need six kinds of (jam)? Did you forget you had jam and open a second (third, fourth)? That's a different problem from getting bored of strawberry jam and opening a jar of the rhubarb. But they both lead to having two many jars of jam open. If you chill drinks in the fridge, how many? Can you change to a one in one out rule? If your family uses a lot of ice/ has an ice maker, can you chill room temp drinks with ice instead of storing them in the fridge? If not, maybe limit consider keeping Sodastream bottles in the fridge instead of cans (lest waste! cheaper!) and keeping N=1 in a row, refill and rechill immediately.

Then, only put things in your fridge that you someone in your house really loves. This, I promise, will cut down on the amount of stuff in your fridge, and it will cut down on your frustration at seeing the things in there.

Next, round up ideas for using the things you really love I made fancy sodas with a friends soda stream and a great thing for that is flavored syrups. If there's a bunch of rosemary (or other herb) needed for a recipe that only calls for a sprig, I make a simple syrup right away with all the extra rosemary. That way it doesn't linger in the fridge for "someday." Flavored simple syrup is also good to make a cake glaze with, and it's great for making sweet iced tea at home. Those might not be things you want to consume, but for instance, dried rosemary (or other herb) can be added to a jar of salt or sugar. That salt can be used for cooking meat and the sugar is divine in shortbread for a subtle hint of flavor. Or use them in salad dressing, which you can mix up, let sit, and then strain after a few days. label the bottle with masking tape so you know what flavor you made. Salad dressing reduces well to make glazes for meats, or you can use it to deglaze meat pans.

Some folks swear by an inventory list on the fridge. I've never been able to train myself to consistently keep it up, much less train others to. But do check in with your fridge once a month or so and jot down what's in there. You'll notice some seasonal trends. Maybe not as extreme as mine, which is from June to November, stuffed to the gills with fresh produce that is desperately needing to be cooked, a few packets of sausage, cheese, and a bottle of fish sauce (I exaggerate only slightly) and then in winter/spring the fridge is full of open jars of pickles, but I try to limit to one open jar of jam at a time.

Finally, clean your fridge every week. This prevents sticky spills from becoming sticky superfund sites, and allows you to put your hands on everything in there, so you can discover those random things that snuck in like gremlins and make an action plan for them.
posted by bilabial at 9:47 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Invest in a dry erase maker, and keep it near the fridge. Don't be afraid to mark leftovers and jams and sauces when you open them.


Grow them in pots?
posted by anastasiav at 9:50 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Some very specific recommendations on how to store things here, but in general, I try to buy less more often. Family of 5, and we usually meal plan and get the majority of what we need on the weekend, and then go again on Wednesday to pick up more perishables.

Our (massive Ameircan) fridge has shelves you can rearrange, so we've got full width shelves on top and bottom, and then two shorter shelves on the right half. Two produce drawers (left is for fruit, right is for veggies), and a full width short drawer for cold cuts, cheese, other snackables.

* Tall and bulky items like a gallons of milk, bottles of juice, etc. on the bottom left.
* Glass/clear plastic storage containers for leftovers stack up on the bottom right.
* Shorter middle shelves on the right are good for egg cartons, pizza boxes, tubs of spreads, etc.
* Top shelves (and doors) are for condiments, as well as random jars of pickles, smaller leftover containers, etc.

The back of the top and bottom shelves are where things generally go to die, but it is also handy for storing larger bottles of ketchup and mustard that I used to fill the smaller squeeze bottles (like these) that go in the door.

Echoing clearing it out each week on garbage night. Most things go quick, but some things just get pushed to the back and forgotten.
posted by hankscorpio83 at 9:52 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh. Absolutely put a sharpie on a string by your fridge and write the date of everything you've opened. Or better yet "TOSS BY ____"

Get a black sharpie and a silver one. Sometimes the lids are dark. Write the date before the jar is cold, because a cold jar is a wet jar and that makes a sharpie sad.
posted by bilabial at 10:00 AM on April 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

Keep your produce drawer on high humidity and only store some vegetables in there, keep the rest outside the drawer. A list of high- and low-humidity vegetables can be found in this post on Kitchn.

Use freezer tape to mark the date you opened a jar / condiment. If you're like me, it's easy to think you just opened something when it's really been in there for like three years.

Do an iron chef style challenge one day every week where you try to use one item that's getting pushed to the back of the fridge.
posted by beyond_pink at 10:00 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

1) - stuff getting pushed all the way to the back, where it is forgotten for months at a time

Try, and ultimately learn how, to make
- pan-fried delicious leftover combos of various kinds,
- delicious leftovers-soup,
- salads with cooked veggies incorporated

Place your leftovers at the front of the shelves to be directly seen when fridge is opened. In my experience, 90% of typical leftovers taste actually better when they're re-used in one of the above ways (unless you forget to jazz them up a little with the right amount of salt, spices and/or wine/tamari/grated cheese/what-have-you). Heck, most high-end recipes that involve several prep-steps are technically spoken re-used leftovers!

TOSS everything you know will never be eaten. DON'T let these things even enter your fridge. So, for example, some leftover salad with dressing and bits of avocado and tomato in it will just not get any better from there, and might be pretty revolting after only one night in a tupperware in the fridge. So eat the salad now, or let it slide. Leftover fish gets weird pretty quickly, too. Everything cabbage is usually WAY better re-heated, on the other hand.

2) - the produce drawers are too small for the amount of produce we usually buy, but I'm not sure how best to store produce outside of the drawers

Ok, so this is individual and has a lot to do with driving-to-the-store economy and the likes, but there is actually a good chance that you're buying too much at a time. I've seen people buy insane amounts of lemons or limes just because "one always needs lemons and limes", and seen the same people chuck insane amounts of lemons and limes all the time. And the unused cabbage heads in the neighbor's compost

Tomatos can better be stored in a fruit bowl outside the fridge. Fruit (surprise) too. Lemons need to be inside the fridge or they get weird, especially organic ones. Avocados outside. Ginger root outside. Onions, Potatoes, root vegetables: dark cabinet. Also, just try and learn, some things depend on your average room temperature, humidity and The Ubiquitous Fruit Fly.

3) - little leftover odds n' ends all over the place (like half a lemon in plastic wrap)

Matter of using that half lemon next time you need a lemon instead of cutting up a new one. So again: leave them in sight, do not push them to the back/side of the fridge.

Other odds and ends: can often be consolidated by theme, in anticipation of my answer to #1. It's basically a matter of thinking ahead, greedily and hungrily. This scoop of beans is going to be DELICIOUS if I first chop up that half onion and this end of garlic, fry it in some olive oil, add those herbs and this bit of bell pepper, and then add that piece of cheese, grated. So: put them all in one corner instead of across three shelves.

Other thoughts:
- Regular go-through-the-entire-fridge routines do work. Matter of not doing it every third year, though.
- Everyone who uses the fridge needs to agree upon and adhere to the same set of rules.
- TAKE NOTEs of the leftover-cooking-results that worked especially well as well as those that absolutely didn't work. The goal is to assemble a list of easy-to-realize solutions here, so you don't end up having to think too hard all the time.
- Basic rule: don't plan to toss anything. Adjust your buying routine accordingly, as much as possible.
posted by Namlit at 10:17 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I use match-y clear plastic storage containers that stack and come in 5-cup, 3-cup, and 1-cup sizes. I have a grains space, a cheese space, a protein space, and veggies in plastic bags take over my bottom shelf, your area names will vary.

I get a lot of mileage out of re-crisping greens by chopping them and putting in cold water for ~10 minutes.

Cilantro and parsley do pretty well if you trim the stems and stick in a jar of water in the fridge door (to minimize jostling / spillage. This is also how I store celery.
posted by momus_window at 10:23 AM on April 26, 2018

I put things in the same place. Eggs are always on the bottom shelf, it's a not very tall space, but I can see the egg carton; ideally it was not put back empty. There's a bowl for small containers - half an onion, leftover peanut sauce from takeout. I cook so I look there often. Jelly and pickles go at the back of their shelf; they keep a long time, and I may have several types, no prob if the strawberry gets forgotten for 3 weeks. Also individual bottles of water or iced tea, which are easy to see and in demand, so someone will look for them. There's a bowl for bread, which never really fits in the bowl, but all the bread(tortillas, muffins) is together. Top shelf is tall - big bottles of juice, water, maybe leftover soups in big yogurt containers. Mayo, ketchup, more mustards than I remember purchasing, bottles of soda, go on the door. Produce goes in the produce drawer where it's too easy to forget, but I usually look pretty frequently.

The freezer is my problem area; I will stock up when meat is on special, but it is easily buried. I brought home a pork loin this week, way on sale, sliced into medallions, put in baggies, froze. If I buy the 3 lb. ground beef to get a better price, I make hamburg patties of most of it, or at least put in smaller amounts. I try to take the time to put hamburger in a sturdy bag and press it thin. That way I can break off a chunk, also it defrosts quickly. If the freezer is very full, I make a list of what's in there.

A full freezer/fridge is more efficient; if there's a lot of space, put bottles of water in the freezer and fridge, if there's a power outage, the mass of cold stuff will help things stay cold longer. I use frozen water bottles in lunch or a cooler as needed; they keep stuff cold, then you have fresh water.

If I keep a sharpie in the kitchen to write labels, it will be borrowed and never seen again; I have no solution for this.
posted by theora55 at 10:23 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am very bad at 'fridge. One thing I finally learned, you have to be able to see it. No storing anything in opaque anything. I bought a bunch of boxes of Ikea ziplocs in all the sizes. They have different colors and patterns on them, and there's two sizes/patterns per box. Which, I don't know how your brain operates, but when I found that out it was like in Wizard of Oz when it turns from sepia to technicolor. Ikea makes everything heavenly, even 'fridge. When I bring home the haystack of produce each week from the farmer's market, I wash everything that day (they tell you not to, but they don't know me: I will not wash lettuce every day. I'll let it rot and eat chips before I'll wash it every day) and spin it and put it in the variously patterned and sized Ikea ziplocs. Then I try to use it all up so that I can invert the ziplocs and dry them so they'll be ready to accept the next week's bounty. I have a shelf that just fits egg cartons turned on their sides. I put new ones to the left and pull from the rightmost carton so I'm always eating the oldest first.

If somebody kept stealing my 'fridge Sharpie, I would superglue a string to the cap and a string to the pen and superglue the other ends of the strings to a Harbor Freight magnet and stick it to the 'fridge so that stealing the pen would mean stealing the strings and the magnet, too. If the thief had the cruel audacity to cut my Sharpie strings, I would superglue all the scissors in the house to the underside of the toilet seat and move to another country.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:36 AM on April 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

Don't ask me how I know that when you put a date on things in the fridge / freezer, you need to include the year.
posted by Etrigan at 10:36 AM on April 26, 2018 [19 favorites]

I like little wire baskets, mostly from the dollar store so $1, for things like bits of cheese. I think they are better for air circulation than solid boxes.
posted by Botanizer at 10:37 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

My personal solution is to force myself to stick to meal-plan-driven food shopping. Plan meals for a full week all at once and then base your grocery shopping around that meal plan. Start by involving perishables already on hand that haven't yet spoiled.

That leftover half a lemon can have a purpose planned for it in advance. A partially used container of goat cheese can be used up in a nice veggie side dish. If done right, this should make shopping cheaper, less stressful, and also cut way back on food waste.

It also helps to have some recipes that will help you use up stuff like most of a head of celery, tons of herbs, etc, all at once. Khoresh karafs, for example, is a tasty celery stew that uses up a bunch of stuff I've had a habit of letting go to waste.
posted by bananana at 10:51 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

We bought a lazy susan for a stupid cabinet in our kitchen only to realize it wasn't really going to work there. I threw it in the fridge just to see if it might be useful. That was almost five years ago, and our salsas, pickles, and olives still live on it. I would honestly buy a second one for the mustard / mayo / ketchup / salad dressing area but that space gets repurposed too often for stuff that won't fit anywhere else.

Other than that, nth-ing bins or baskets you can pull out all at once. Pro tip: favor more (and smaller) bins instead of big trays that take up most of a shelf, because big trays get heavy and awkward. My mom thought she was being really smart with a big tray but it's so heavy it never gets pulled out and it might as well not be there.
posted by fedward at 11:00 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yaaaaaaaaay, thank you, fedward! Now I know what to do with the too-big-for-the-cupboard lazy Susan I bought!
posted by Don Pepino at 11:22 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

The 1/2 lemon and head of garlic live in the butter compartment.


keep them in a jar of water (don't submerge the leaves). Alternately, they're not dead just wilted...put them on a plate by the window, turn them over 1-2 times a day, in 2-3 days crumble them into spice jars.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:25 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is not a strategy, but it speaks to the struggle:

Condimental Journey
by Hal Hurst

When it's time to do chores around my house, we are all of the same mind: If it's not causing anyone any actual pain, we'd rather put it off. But sometimes it just feels better to get things a little more under control, at least for a moment, when the chores cry out for attention. And so on selected Saturdays I sometimes find myself faced with a chore that has reached monumental proportions.

I spent my last Saturday on such a chore, doing nothing but emptying out the refrigerator and freezer and letting it defrost. I'm hoping that defrosting it will help to curb that alarming KLUNK I hear every time it shuts off, but I'm not holding my breath. At any rate, it was worth a try, and while it defrosted I scrubbed it spotless, a wonderful change from its previous nauseating condition. This lifted my spirits considerably, but as it turns out cleaning out the fridge also has its wistful side for a sensitive, paternal man who cooks for his family.

Some things are fresh and only need to wait in the ice chest for the cooling to be turned on again. Others are easy to get rid of, like that shriveled green thing in the vegetable drawer, and the leaky bag of blue ice, or the powdery blue block in the cheese drawer. But the condiments!

A jar of Tandoori sauce with half a teaspoon gone where I tasted it, now 6 months old, but probably still OK. I wanted to make some tandoori chicken, but the recipe is strangely daunting...

Pink Grapefruit marmalade, which sounded pretty good, looks great, and tastes good if you're in that kind of mood. Which I seldom am, it turns out, and the rest never are. So the ingénue jars of strawberry and blackberry jam come and go, but my grapefruit marmalade is living out a bitter and neglected old age, seldom visited.

Pickled zucchini, bought at least a year ago at the church bazaar, pale green pieces floating in pale green liquid, like some kind of ghostly specimen and definitely not inspiring any notion of eating them, but I have never spoken to MM about them, and she is the one who bought the jar back then. And to top it off, the jar is still sealed, and that along with the church connection gives them a kind of sanctity they wouldn't otherwise have.

I condensed the mini dill pickles into two open jars. During one week last summer the kids went through three jars of pickles, so I stocked up. That's when they got sick of them, and they haven't eaten a pickle since. Maybe there is a recipe for pickle casserole I can use to get the numbers down to a manageable level.

There's that half-tub of miso. My constant companion for three years now, and still hanging in there. About once a year I crave miso soup.

A half-jar of horseradish. Probably too old to use now. Can't even remember the last time I served roast beef. I should make it again sometime soon...

Raspberry mustard. Sounds like a great idea, but really way too sweet. The same with the honey mustard. They're history.

Chinese hot chili sauce, a pint bottle, half gone after two years. How can you tell if it's gone bad? Kung pao stir-fry: I should make it next week.

Sauerkraut in a Tupperware container. A little dark, but still sour. Should I buy sausage so I can use up the kraut? It would be the tail wagging the dog, but...with some French rolls... the bockwurst lunch we had the day I opened the jar was pretty good, and deserves repeating.

Speaking of kraut, here's some of Harry Kim's Won Bok Kimchee, sealed tightly in its jar. I'm the only one who eats it, and when I do it always reminds me of feasts I had while in the Moonies.

Has it turned? Don't get me started about Kim Chee. It's too easy. With its price sticker it reminds me that in these inflated times Won Bok now costs about three fifty. But beef pergogie and rice, with Kim Chee...sometime...

Four tablespoons of Florida Key lime juice. It's got some white sediment, but can lime juice go bad? I thought I used that up months ago. Never did make Key lime pie, though...

Why should there be such deep emotional ties with the condiments nestled in the deep recesses of my fridge? Getting rid of not quite expired ingredients is somehow like sending your children off to orphanages, like drowning kittens. Still, it has to be done. I can't string them along forever. I feel that I made a promise to them back when we all were younger, of culinary glory, which, sadly, I have not followed through on. In these unfulfilled dreams there is a kind of poignancy that stays my hand at the brink of the trash bin.

Perhaps that is why I'm so frazzled today. I will end up doing the job, and starting over. Some of the condiments will be given new hope, new promises, others will have to go on to that big Frigidaire in the sky. And I'll be needing a few moments of silence to mourn their passing.

posted by SLC Mom at 11:30 AM on April 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

We have an "apple drawer" under the vegetable crispers. Its as deep and wide as the fridge, but only 3 or so inches tall. We eat a lot of apples so it worked okay for us...except that it was too deep. Apples would roll into the back half and surprise us later when they emerged, wrinkled and sad, from the far recesses. So we put a piece of folded cardboard in the drawer to block off the back 3/4 of the drawer, we have less space but at least we aren't losing apples.

Moral of story: block off dark recesses if you really don't need them. they're magnets for stuff going bad.
posted by Elly Vortex at 12:17 PM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Our bottom-of-the-fridge produce drawers can't even hold a head of lettuce or an uncut leek, I feel ya; and so we've repurposed our produce drawers for Pickles* and Meat. Bread, fruit, and veg go on an open tray lined with paper towels on the top shelf for visibility, and we only buy what we'll eat in 3-4 days. Leftovers go on the second shelf. Some condiments get corralled into a Breakfast Bin, stuff that we'll either put on toast or over yogurt or oatmeal; it's easy to pop it out of the fridge for making breakfast. Remaining things live on the third shelf (stuff that can stay fresh for longer than a few days but not longer than a couple of weeks, like chicken stock, eggs, yogurt) or in the door (condiments). The "Meat" drawer can hold *either* a 3-lb chicken *or* a package of four chicken thighs and a package of sausages, and that's about as much meat as we'll eat in half a week.

But processing is what keeps this functional.

- We only keep 3-4 days' worth of "fresh" stuff in the fridge at any given point (meat, fish, veggies, fruit.) There are exceptions, like a carton of eggs or a tub of yogurt will last us longer than that, but we know we're going to make it through either of those in a week or 10 days because of how we eat.

- For lunch and dinner, we check the leftovers shelf to see if anything needs to get eaten up first. If there's nothing there or whatever's there doesn't appeal, then we go to the freshies. Sometimes we've done a meal plan, sometimes we haven't, and the whiteboard on the fridge indicates if there's something we're saving for a planned recipe.

- In the winter, I do one major and one minor grocery shop a week. Sunday is the big shop, and I do a midweek refill. (In the summer, I do more shopping at the farmers' markets, so I buy even less food per shop, primarily intending for it to be just enough for the next day or two; we love berries, for example, but those things turn if you *blink*, so best to just enjoy day of or maybe the morning after.)

- Wednesday and Saturday nights, we turn any remaining freshies into *something*. If it's half an onion, Mr. Kouti will chop and saute it. If it's chicken we didn't get around to whatevering because we got pizza instead, I'll pop it in the Instant Pot to turn into shredded chicken. If it's fruit, Mr. Kouti will chop it up so we can nosh on it that night, and then dump the remainder over our oatmeal or yogurt the next morning.

* Well, okay, "pickles" includes, as of this writing, bread and butter pickles, pickled jalapeños, two different kinds of miso, a white kimchi and an oyster kimchi, kkaennip, gochuchang, and salsa that didn't fit into the door. But all stuff that cannot go bad even if you're trying. :)
posted by Pandora Kouti at 1:49 PM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I also love Fridge Binz. They're really durable.

I also think that you can't just "set it and forget it" with the fridge. Every week before you go grocery shopping, take 5-10 minutes to throw out old food, move things back to their rightful place if they have migrated, wipe up spills, etc.

You didn't mention freezer storage issues, but I wanted to mention that I put a wire mesh shelf expander in my freezer (something like this), and it's great for adding more usable space.
posted by radioamy at 2:56 PM on April 26, 2018

Put the almost gone, going-to-turn-if-I- don’t-eat-this-now, odds and ends in a plastic bag in the freezer. When the bag is full, make soup stock from it!

You can use a wax pencil/ China marker to label containers, and it’s washable!

If you can’t remember when you bought it, throw it out.
posted by shalom at 4:26 PM on April 26, 2018

Oh, also, you can freeze almost any herb.

Basically my strategy is to make judicious use of the freezer.
posted by shalom at 4:31 PM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]



Oh, also, you can freeze almost any herb.

And here's how! Chop them up good (I use a food processor), then stuff them into the cubes of an ice cube tray. Pack them in really good and then drizzle enough water in to completely fill up the compartments. Then pop that in the freezer, and when they're frozen solid, pop out the cubes and store them in a freezer baggie.

Each compartment of a standard ice cube tray is about a tablespoon or so of chopped herb. I've successfully used these herb cubes in soups, salads, salsas...

Or turn the herbs into pesto. Pesto is not just a thing you can do with basil - you can turn any herb into pesto. Choose a cheese and a nut that would match well with the herb in question (havarti and walnuts with dill, maybe?) and proceed as you would with basil pesto. And you can freeze pesto too; you will find conflicting opinions about whether you can freeze the cheese in a pesto, but I spoke to one of the chefs at a kitchen shop here and she said that there's confusion about that point becuase freezing whole cheese isn't good for cheese texturally, but with pesto it doesn't matter becuase you've blitzed the cheese to hell anyway already. So you may freeze pesto with impunity!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:11 PM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I use exactly the same size and shape of clear round reusable plastic containers for leftovers, preprepared food, etc and use post its on top with the food name and date. That way small containers can't get lost behind bigger ones and I don't have to move or unstack them as much to tell what's inside.

I also find it helpful to write the use by date on the lids/outsides of foods that need to be used relatively quickly (eggs, milk, juice) or that last for such a long time that it can be easy to forget when to replace them (condiments). The idea is to make it so that I can actually see the date or add it if it isn't already there - like with "use within x days" foods.

When it's convenient I try to put whatever is expiring soonest towards the front. And I try to go through the fridge and cabinets to see what's there, what's expiring soon, and what needs to go at least once or twice a week.
posted by Verba Volant at 6:20 PM on April 26, 2018

I forgot: keeping produce in something clear makes a big difference for me. If my produce is in the bags from the store I can't see what it is and sometimes forget to use it.
I actually used to keep a lot of it outside the produce bins when I used to eat meat because I wanted an area on the very bottom of the fridge reserved for raw meat in case it leaked or something. That way it couldn't contaminate anything else. I think it tends to be colder down there too.
posted by Verba Volant at 6:41 PM on April 26, 2018

Meal planning/menus to cut down on waste
Clean out once a week
Large grocery shop once a week
Prep food and produce for the week before putting it away
Clear plastic bins (restaurant supply stores have a huge variety)
New foods always go to the back
And good old fashioned OCD
posted by OnefortheLast at 8:06 PM on April 26, 2018

Response by poster: Thank you for all your advice guys! Too many best answers to mark them all!

Please take my pesto recipe as a token of thanks:

Overeducated Alligator's Pesto
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/3 cup walnuts (the walnut halves and pieces from TJ's are a good inexpensive choice)
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup pecorino romano
- 2 cups fresh basil or arugula leaves, washed & firmly packed (baby or adult arugula depending on how spicy you like it)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- olive oil
- light cream (optional)

I make this in a small food chopper. It freezes really well.
1. Pulse garlic and walnuts in the chopper until coarsely combined.
2. Add cheese and herbs and pulse to combine. Try to process as gently as possible each time to retain texture.
3. Add soy sauce and 1/4 cup of olive oil and pulse to combine. Add more olive oil to your desired consistency. You can also add a tablespoon of water (or cream) at a time to thin it to your desired consistency.
4. Serve immediately if you like the raw garlic bite, or refrigerate for 1-2 hours if you like it milder.

Storage tip (LOL): if you refrigerate the leftovers, don't heat it up on the pasta. Heat the pasta separately and then put the pesto on cold or room temp. Heat does bad things to it. Likewise if serving from frozen, thaw completely and try to avoid heating.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:06 AM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Trays. I found big flat white plastic serving trays that fit my fridge side by side. Using these you can turn every shelf in your fridge into a drawer. They make cleaning up spots easier because you can take the tray to the sink instead of squatting in front of the fridge scrubbing while worrying that all the cold air is escaping and the rag you are using was hot when you started but immediately has cooled down to the point where you can't use it to dissolve stickies and have to rub them off.

You can also rotate the tray so that the fresh items are all in the front within a few seconds, making the fridge easier to re-arrange, which makes them better than drawers.

My biggest problem is sharing the fridge with two other people who eat separately from me, but there is no clear delineation what was bought for who. So periodically I have to double check if that jar of salsa is in there because they are expecting me to eat it and I am expecting them to eat it.

Anything put into the vegetable crisper will be forgotten. Our veggies go on the top shelf and one veggie drawer is full of bags of milk (Canada) and the other one is full of winter storage vegetables, mainly onions and maybe carrots. Stuff that needs to be eaten within the week goes in front at the top, in the easiest to reach area. This helps with the out of sight out of mind problem. It's always a relief to discover that we still have onions although I bought them three weeks ago, but a disaster if it was the zucchini I bought three weeks ago, which now has to be poured out of the bag before the slightly solid part can be dribbled into the compost.

It helps to divide your veggies and fruit into those that have to be eaten within a couple of days and those which are keepers. If you combine those categories so you have green peppers and cabbage on the same shelf in the same location the cabbage getting in front of the green peppers will condemn them to a slimy death. But if it is a bag of premade salad greens in front of the green peppers you'll see the salad and go whoops, gotta eat that, pull it out and see the green peppers and your menu is already half planned.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:59 AM on April 27, 2018

1. For memorising I use a chalkboard to write down everything that is stored in the fridge with the date of buying + expiration date. This requires some organizational skills and discipline - was a bit hard for us to keep track of everything as we are very-very lazy :).

2. Get different boxed for different kinds of food, put a label on them. It would be easier to oversee what is going on in general - how much of leftovers you have, where are the fruits and vegetables. If boxes don't work you can use separators or food containers.

These two steps help me a lot in understanding what we have and where to locate something that could be close to expiration date.
posted by NoWayWay at 2:35 AM on May 2, 2018

Don't refrigerate things that don't need refrigeration.

Butter dish? This works on the counter just fine.

That slice of lemon you mentioned; why is it in there? If it's wrapped, air isn't getting into it, and citrus isn't refrigerated at the grocery, so... yeah.

What else in there doesn't actually benefit that much from the fridge?

That, and get rectangular matching storage containers (Pyrex, Tupperware, whatever) so more fits sanely.
posted by talldean at 11:35 PM on May 2, 2018

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