• By Elizabeth Coots, Extension Agent

Family and Consumer Sciences

Where to store what in the fridge I’m sure you’ve heard a realtor say “location, location, location.” But did you know that USDA says the same thing about storing food in your refrigerator? Where you store items in your refrigerator is just as important as their age. Organize your fridge with food safety in mind. Avoid cross contamination by storing items that do not need to be cooked on the top shelves. As you move down, items should be stored based on their cooking temperature. Foods that require the highest cooking temperature, like chicken and poultry, should be stored on the bottom.

Upper shelves - ready to eat foods (cheese, yogurt, deli meats), drinks, leftovers. The upper shelves remain a more constant temperature. They are great for milk and dairy products. Your eyes go here first when you open the door, so keep healthy snacks here too.

Lower shelves - raw ingredients to be used in cooked dishes. The lower shelves are usually the coldest part of the fridge. This is a great place to store raw meat, fish and eggs. Remember to store fish and pork (cooking temp 145 degrees F) above ground meats (cooking temp 160 degrees F) and ground meats above chicken (cooking temp 165 degrees F).

Door - condiments (ketchup, sauces, jellies, etc.), canned drinks. The door is actually the warmest part of the refrigerator. Do not store anything perishable like milk and eggs on the door, even though they have the convenient little wells for individual storage. It’s best to store your eggs in the carton on a lower shelf. By remaining in the carton, you can keep track of their date and minimize any messes associated with breakage.

Drawers - fruits and vegetables or meats depending on how they are designed. Some drawers are ‘crisper’ drawers and have humidity features. Vegetables need a higher humidity than fruits, so it is best if you can separate them. If you need one drawer for meat, then store your vegetables in one drawer and meat in the other. If one drawer is on top of the other, use the lower drawer for meat. If they are side-by-side, it won’t matter what is stored where. In the end, if you need both drawers for fruits and vegetables, and you have to store raw meat above the drawers, make your own meat drawer using a plastic bin. This will catch any drips that might occur and keep cross contamination at a minimum.

Refrigerators vary in size, design and temperature. It may take you a few days to get the feel for your unit. Remember that proper refrigeration temperature is 40 degrees F or below. You’ll need a thermometer to tell you the temperature. The dial that ranges from 0-9 is not an accurate gauge of temperature. And don’t over pack. Cold air must be able to move freely around the food in order to keep it properly chilled.

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