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Refrigerator Size & Organization Tips That Save You Money


CONSIDER YOUR EATING & SHOPPING HABITS

A refrigerator is an investment that can last for many years, so it’s important to consider all your options before purchasing. While your first consideration for sizing a new refrigerator is how much space you have, your family’s lifestyle, eating, and shopping habits also play a major role. Do you mostly eat your meals out? Do you cook with fresh produce? Do you stock up on frozen foods? Do you live in a household of heavy meat-eaters or vegetarians? Do you shop light and often? All of these are important factors in determining the type and size of refrigerator you purchase, and what options and features you need. Consider how you and your family live now, as well as what your life might look like in 5 to 10 years (for example, are you currently an adult-only household but you plan on having children in the not-too-distant future?). With a little thought and planning, you can ensure that your refrigerator will suit your life for years to come.

If you buy fresh and cook often…

If you save eating out for special occasions and tend to cook with fresh ingredients, then a larger refrigerator with a smaller freezer is best. Look for one with adjustable shelves and separate crisper drawers.

If you eat a lot of meat…

Leaks from meat can contaminate other foods, so it’s vital to store it in designated areas of your refrigerator, usually near the bottom to avoid drips. Consider a refrigerator with large bottom drawers, a separate upper drawer for cold cuts, & shelves with drip guards.

If you consume mostly produce…

Similar to meat-eaters, people who are vegetarian or who consume a lot of produce should search for a refrigerator with at least two spacious crisper drawers. Certain fruits and vegetables require different moisture requirements, so purchase a unit that allows for humidity control in each drawer.

If you store a lot of frozen foods…

If you and your family purchase large volumes of frozen foods, or like to freeze meat as well as other groceries, look for a unit with a large freezer. Opt for a top freezer or a side-by-side unit that provides easy access to frozen items without bending or straining.

If you like to entertain…

If you enjoy throwing parties and entertaining guests, look for a refrigerator with flexible storage. Adjustable shelves allow you to customize the inside of your unit, and provide plenty of space for wide items like platters and pizza boxes, or tall ones like soda bottles and cakes. You may also consider a refrigerator with door-in-door capabilities, which makes it easier to access items like drinks and condiments without constantly opening the main compartment.

If you shop infrequently…

Some people like to grocery shop just a few times a month, while others go several times a week. If you like to plan your meals ahead of time and shop less frequently, opt for a refrigerator with more space. Conversely, if you shop often and light, you can likely make do with less storage.

REFRIGERATOR SIZING QUICK TIPS:

  • If you mostly prepare home-cooked meals and/or shop for several meals at once, a 16 cu. ft. refrigerator should be sufficient for a household of one to two people. Add another 3 cu. ft. for each additional household member.
  • If you eat the majority of your meals outside the home and/or you shop light and frequently, consider a 12 cu. ft. for a one- to two-person household. Add 2 cu. ft. for each additional person.

Above image provided by LG.

GET SERIOUS ABOUT REFRIGERATOR ORGANIZATION

Once you’ve decided on a refrigerator size that suits your lifestyle, the next money-saving step is to organize your food for optimal freshness. Take a cue from the pros: organize your food according to the temperature to which each food item needs to be cooked. Foods that need no cooking to be safely consumed go on top, and items with the highest cooking temps go on bottom. This ensures that any harmful bacteria that drip onto food beneath will be killed during cooking.

If you’re still unsure about what refrigerator size is right for you, organize your current one in the manner suggested below, then note which sections you require the most space in, and which you don’t.

  • Upper shelf: The upper shelf is for items that don’t need to be cooked. This includes leftovers, drinks, herbs, ready-to-eat items (such as yogurt and hummus), and delicate fruits (like berries).
  • Middle shelf: The middle shelf has a cool, constant temperature  best suited for dairy and eggs. Keep these items near the back of the shelf where it’s coldest.
  • Lower shelf: The lower shelf is typically the coldest and has little food storage beneath it, making it ideal for meat and seafood that might drip. Tightly wrap raw meats and fish and keep them in a separate plastic bin or bowl to contain leaks that can contaminate nearby food.

Doors

Items in the door experience the most temperature fluctuation due to opening and closing, and should therefore be more resistant to spoiling, such as condiments, juices, and water. Do not store milk or eggs here, as they require consistently cool temps.

Drawers

Crisper drawers regulate the moisture levels of the air within to keep fruits and vegetables at their freshest. Because some fruits produce ethylene, which can cause vegetables to ripen or go limp, it’s best to keep fruits and veggies in separate drawers. Many refrigerators also come with a shallow drawer near the middle for deli meats.

Freezer

The freezer is for long-term storage, and may include frozen fruits and veggies, stocks, meat, bread, sauces, and frozen meals.

TIP: Store fresh, whole ginger or chopped herbs in the freezer to extend freshness.

ADJUST YOUR TEMPERATURE & HUMIDITY SETTINGS

Set your fridge and freezer to the proper temperatures to keep perishables fresh and safe for consumption. Refrigerators should be between 34°-40°F; above 40°F can cause harmful bacteria growth, and below 34°F can damage or freeze some foods. Freezers should be a steady 0°F.

The right crisper drawer humidity levels ensure that your fruits and vegetables last. An open setting lets some moisture air out, which is ideal for hardier fruits and vegetables, like citrus. A closed setting keeps moisture in, creating the perfect environment for delicate foods like leafy greens, cucumbers, and peppers.

TIP: Don’t overload your refrigerator – cold air needs room to circulate.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT STORAGE CONTAINERS

Proper food storage helps avoid rot, mold, and cross-contamination while ensuring freshness.

  • Leftovers: Promptly refrigerate leftovers to keep bacteria from developing. If food is warm, use small, shallow containers to promote rapid cooling. Date leftovers and keep them towards the front of the refrigerator so they’re not forgotten.
  • Fresh Eggs and Dairy: Keep eggs in their original carton – not the egg tray or door shelf – and use within three to five weeks. Keep milk tightly sealed towards the back of the refrigerator. Wrap cheese in plastic wrap or wax paper and place in a re-sealable plastic bag.
  • Meat and Fish: Store raw meat and seafood in its original packaging, if possible. Otherwise, tightly wrap it in plastic wrap, then a sealed bag, and place in a container to control leaks.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: Loosely wrap uncut produce in a bag with holes cut in it to allow air circulation. Wrap cut produce or lettuces with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture, and store in a bag.
  • Fresh Herbs: For hardy herbs (like rosemary and thyme), arrange them on a slightly damp paper towel, roll into a bundle, and store in a plastic bag. For tender herbs (like cilantro and parsley), snip the ends, place in a jar with an inch of water, then cover with the lid or a plastic bag. All herbs can be stored in the refrigerator on the top shelf or on the door, except basil, which should be stored on the counter instead (avoiding direct sunlight).
  • Frozen Foods: Ice crystals and freezer burn occur when food is exposed to oxygen. To prevent it, wrap meat and seafood in a double layer of plastic wrap or wax paper and seal tightly in a plastic bag. Store other frozen foods in plastic bags with all air removed. If using a container, press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the food before sealing.

TIP: Wash produce before you use it, NOT before you refrigerate. Excess moisture can cause spoilage.

KNOW WHAT NOT TO REFRIGERATE

While most fresh foods need to be refrigerated, some can be damaged by the chill and should be stored at room temperature instead. This includes:

  • Tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Potatoes
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Avocados
  • Winter Squashes
  • Coffee
  • Honey
  • Nuts
  • Bread (can also be stored in the freezer)
  • Bananas
  • Melons
  • Apples
  • Stone Fruit

Once cut, produce should be moved to the refrigerator, as should most whole fruits that aren’t eaten within a week or so. Keep potatoes, onions, and garlic in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated place out of direct sunlight.

TIP: If you already have nuts in your refrigerator, toast them in a dry pan before using to restore the nutty flavor that the cold diminished.

For more comprehensive food-storage information, check out FoodSafety.gov.