The fridge seems to be one of the most often disregarded modern object living in our kitchen. Nowadays, everyone in the civilized world has one. In the past and possibly still in some developing countries, the refrigerator would take the shape of an entire room or the coolest part of one's house, possibly underground, where air temperatures might be lower even in the hottest of summers. In the past we harvested and used preservation techniques to better conserve and consume our food: cooking what's available from the fields during harvest time, canning and conserving under vinegar, oil, and lard. Today, it seems that regardless of whether the product has a "best if consumed by" label or if it's fresh produce, the expectation is that as long as you drop it in the fridge, that magical box will preserve it for you indefinitely; no further action required. It turns out, this seamlessly simple to use appliance was designed in layers and compartments for allowing different micro climates to coexist. When is the last time that you were taught how to use it? I can't honestly remember, and I think I need a refresher myself. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources out there, and I put it all together for you to review.
Ready? Let's see what I discovered during my search.
Fridges shouldn't be set higher than 5° F (40° C) for the simple reason that germs start growing really fast past this temperature. As a consequence, it is logical that the temperature in the fridge is not going to be constant and equally spread throughout the internal space of the appliance. When it comes to cleaning, I don't like any chemical product, so I simply use a towel soaked in a solution of water, a couple of tablespoon of white vinegar along with a teaspoon of baking soda to wipe its surfaces down.
I found this infographic by PartDirect that displays some more tricks for you to learn in order to make your fridge more efficient and consuming less energy in the long run.
At the macro level, today's refrigerator is the place where we throw food to cool and conserve what was left over from previous meals. We tend to place items where there is room available on the shelves. Sometimes we arrange stuff because it just looks better or it seems to make more sense in a certain spot rather than another, but does it? Sometimes we do think that it just makes sense for practical reasons, like putting bottles of milk that are sensitive to sudden changes of temperatures on the side door. At the micro level, the fridge can be as fascinating as observing a small town in a miniature size where everything has a reason to be and where spaces were designed for specific purposes.
SIDE DOORS (40° F - 46° F)
Because doors keep getting opened and closed, they are the most sensitive to temperature drops, making this the warmest section. Temperatures in this area tend to oscillate between 40° F and 46 ° F. If you are like me in the habit of keeping fresh products like milk, orange juice and eggs in this area, you already know that you will want to move those items in a lower and colder section to avoid the acceleration of spoiling and that makes your food perish sooner and faster. What's good to store in this space is sauces, jams, cooked veggies, and everything that doesn't need a steady temperature.
UPPER SHELVES (39° F - 42° F)
At the upper level, air tends to be slightly warmer. Here, it's okay to sore leftovers, cooked food, and other ready-to-eat products such as fresh pasta and sauces. I also store some bottled cold-pressed juices.
CENTRAL SHELVES (35° F - 39° F)
As we move toward the bottom of the fridge, temperature decreases, and that's where you want to store your eggs and milk. Smart fridges have a special drawer where you can store dairies like fresh cheeses and butter. Even though meats and fish should go in the lower level, I store mine here for 2 main reasons: 1) I generally fresh freeze all my meats in individually packets and only thaw one when I'm ready to eat it 2) I occupy the lower shelve for the extra produce that don't fit in the bottom drawers and I don't want to risk cross-contamination with the meats.
BOTTOM SHELVES (35° F)
This is the coldest area of the fridge and ideally you should put all your meats and fish here, tightly sealed to avoid cross-contamination with other food, especially if the produce is directly underneath this level. This is also the perfect place to store fresh produce that doesn't fit in the produce drawers. This is also the place where I put apples and avocados which release etilene gas, which if mixed with other fruits would make them go bad really fast.
PRODUCE DRAWERS 42 - 46
Humidity control is probably one of the most underused feature of this appliance when available! The ability to regulate small vents and to filter more or less air into the drawers is a simple trick that will make the difference between crisp and wilted vegetables. If you don't have a produce drawer or if you have more produce than drawer space like I do, using Ziplock freezer bags is a good idea for preservation; you can then seal the bag(s) completely or leave some space to let air in. I found that infographic below made things easier for me.
The easy infographic below summarizes pretty neatly what I just went over with you.
FREEZER and FROZEN FOOD
You gotta love freezers for their ability to preserve fresh key food while saving you a lot of time in the process. The general consensus is that the freezer should be set ideally to 32° F (0° C). Because freezers are usually more compact and packed than a fridge, items should be better sealed especially when a risk of cross contamination with meat and fish is a possibility. My freezer has compartments so I keep fish and meats tightly sealed in big ziplock freezer bags on one side, and everything else on the other. To avoid having moisture crystalizing inside your food, always let cooked food cool before storing it away. I like to keep the guidelines provided by the National Center for Home Food Preservation handy which has crafted a safe list of procedures and recommendations for many food items.
And there you have it! We've learned quite a bit about storing food in our fridge and we can now finally share this new found knowledge at the next house party!
ARE YOU FOOD SMART ?
Mauro is the founder of online food magazine Don't Stop Eating. He also is a board certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and a Esogetic Colorpuncture therapist. Mauro offers a 6-month coaching program called STEP ONE, and he promotes living and doing what we love best. Mauro is also an Ambassador at Live In the Grey, which promotes living and doing what we love best.