How to organise your fridge and what food should go where
What’s the best place in the fridge for your dairy, fresh fish and vegetables? Putting food or drink anywhere in your fridge will keep it cool, but there’s an ideal place for everything, so food stays fresher for longer.
Humidity or crisper drawer
What does it do?
The vege drawer or crisper is one of the most common compartments in modern fridges. All the fridges currently on our website have a crisper drawer, and while most of us probably store our vegetables in them, are we using them correctly?
This drawer is designed to keep the temperature and humidity even within the compartment, allowing for the best storage of easily perishable foods such as fruit and vegetables.
Humidity in the drawer is typically controlled by a slider on the front of the compartment that opens a gap at the top of the drawer (you can sometimes find this slider on the bottom of the shelf above the drawer).
When the slider is open, the warm, humid air in the drawer can vent, creating lower humidity. If the slider is closed, the drawer stays more humid than the rest of the fridge. Some fridges may get more technical, using sensors and seals to help monitor and control humidity.
With high humidity comes a risk of excess condensation dropping onto your food, so some manufacturers have designed lids for these drawers to help prevent this, using grooves in the lid to let condensation drain away.
A humidity drawer doesn’t guarantee your veges will stay fresh for longer. If you notice them rotting quicker than expected, it’s time to start playing with those humidity controls. Don’t expect to get it right on your first attempt, as everyone’s fridge operates under different conditions. Getting the right humidity setting for your vegetables takes some trial and error.
Not all vegetable crispers have humidity controls – some are simply a bin to store your vegetables in. In this case, you can use containers to help regulate the humidity for specific produce.
Bigger fridges often come with more than one crisper drawer, so use them wisely and split up your produce. This is particularly useful for separating ethylene-producing food, like bananas, which can cause ethylene-sensitive foods, like broccoli, to ripen quicker.
What to store here?
- Fruits and vegetables that are prone to wilting.
- Food that rots easily, such as apples and pears, will need low humidity, while high humidity helps prevent wilting in vegetables like lettuce.
A drawer of many names
We test a lot of fridges, and we’ve noticed many different names for the humidity or crisper drawers, even from a single manufacturer. Here are some of the more interesting ones we’ve seen:
- fresh zone (LG)
- EverFresh+ (Beko)
- moist balance crisper (LG)
- optimal fresh zone (Samsung)
- fresh safe (Panasonic).
Meat or fish chiller
What does it do?
Also known as a fresh drawer or the chiller, this compartment keeps fresh and easily perishable meat at the coldest temperature in the fridge, ideally -1°C. Low temperatures keep the meat as cold as possible without freezing (which can break down cell walls). It also helps prevent bacterial growth but keeps the meat warm enough for quick and easy cooking.
Chiller compartments also keep meat separated from the rest of your food, helping to prevent cross-contamination of bacteria and odours, and keep any spills contained. They’re sometimes called deli compartments as they’re also good for storing cured meats like ham and salami.
If your household doesn’t eat meat, this isn’t a wasted compartment. It’s a great place to store foods that absorb smells easily, cold drinks or leftovers. Just don’t store any vegetables here. And if your model lets you adjust the temperature of this compartment, you can set it to the same temperature as the rest of the fridge (3°C) and use it as you would any other area.
What to store here?
- Fresh fish.
- Dairy products.
- Food or drink that is likely to spill or absorb smells easily.
For most people, the top shelf of their fridge is at eye height, making it great for those frequently consumed items, such as deli meats, margarine and leftovers. It’s also a good place to keep yoghurts and soft cheeses.
A good place for eggs
Even if your fridge has an egg holder in the door, don’t store your eggs there. Instead, put your eggs on the middle shelf (where the temperature is more consistent). This will keep them fresher and tastier for longer.
Keeping eggs, which are porous, in their carton helps prevent them from absorbing smells and losing moisture. And while it is safe to store your eggs outside of the fridge, make sure you’re eating them regularly as they go off quicker at room temperature.
Top tip: You can test if eggs are safe to eat with the float test. Place the egg in a bowl or cup of water. If the egg sinks, it’s good to eat. If it floats, throw it away.
And then there’s bread
Few questions spark more debate in the Consumer office than, “Where’s the perfect place to store your bread?”. Some of us are pantry-only fans, while those who want their bread to last as long as possible store their loaves in the freezer (though it’s not as convenient, because you have to wait for it to defrost). A good compromise is the middle shelf of the fridge. The consistent temperature means bread will last longer than if it was left outside (but it will still get stale as it dries out).
Defrosting and messy foods
The bottom shelves in fridges are usually glass or plastic and have a lip at the front to prevent spills from messy food leaking below. This is where you should defrost frozen foods – not at room temperature on the kitchen bench or in the sink, as that can grow more bacteria than the fridge. Once thawed, leftovers should be kept for no more than 2 days.
A new home for milk
For many of us, shoving your milk in the fridge door is a no-brainer, it slots in so well. However, if you want milk to last as long as possible, store it on the bottom shelf (towards the back if possible). This area stays colder, with a more consistent temperature. To avoid leaks, keep your milk bottle upright (you might need to adjust the shelving to achieve this).
Because it’s opened and closed constantly, the door is the warmest area of your fridge. This makes drinks and sauces, which have the least problem with temperature fluctuations, ideal products to be stored here. This also means they’re easy to grab, minimising how long your fridge is open. Most fridge doors have adjustable shelving, so you can customise the space for your needs.
What does it do?
Dairy compartments are slightly warmer than the rest of your fridge and designed to store foods such as butter and hard cheeses (if they’re being served in the next few days). Being slightly warmer means cheeses are closer to serving temperature and butter is easier to spread.
You’ll often find these compartments in the fridge door. Even though this is the area of the fridge most exposed to temperature fluctuations, the enclosed compartments mean temperatures inside remain relatively stable. They also prevent odour cross-contamination to other foods.
What to store here?
- Hard cheeses (not soft).
What do you do with medicine or snacks you don’t want to get into little hands?
Luckily, some fridges come with lockable compartments designed to store medicines that need to be kept refrigerated. These models – such as the WQE6000SB by Westinghouse – are great for homes with young children. But you’ll often find the compartments aren’t particularly big. If your medicine doesn’t fit, store it in a hard-to-open container elsewhere in the fridge; just make sure it has plenty of ventilation holes to allow efficient cooling. And if your medication is sensitive to temperature, don’t store it in the door; our testing shows the door area can see large variations in temperature.
Convertible fridge-freezer compartment
What does it do?
Also called switch or multi-zone compartments, you can convert these compartments to function as either a fridge or a freezer.
Convertible temperature compartments are very handy for potluck dinners; just turn a freezer compartment into a fridge for guests to store their food or drinks. You can also often set these compartments as a soft freezer, which keeps food below freezing, but warmer than traditional freezer compartments. That’s not ideal for long-term storage but makes these compartments a great place to store ice cream and keep it scoopable.
Convertible compartments are often a drawer between the fridge and freezer. On quad-door fridges (with two freezer compartments and a single fridge compartment with two doors), one or more freezer compartments will often be convertible.
Most fridges with this option have digital controls making it easy to switch modes. For safe food storage, set the temperature to 3°C when the compartment is being used as a fridge, and -18°C when it’s a freezer. Be aware that the change isn’t instant. It will take around 2 hours for the temperatures to adjust. Remove any food you don’t want to store at the new temperature before changing modes. And remember that refreezing some foods, such as meat, shellfish and cooked foods, is unsafe.
It’s also important to remember to tell everyone in the household when you change a compartment’s temperature settings, so food doesn’t become spoiled unnecessarily. We recommend using post-it notes to alert everyone when changing the compartment’s use.
There are some common items that don’t need to be stored in your fridge:
- herbs and spices
- citrus and stone fruits
- garlic cloves
- sauces and dressings that are mainly oil or vinegar
Try to load up your freezer compartment. The fuller it is, the better it can regulate the temperature. If you don’t have enough food, you can freeze half-full bottles of water (don’t put in full ones, as they could explode). Never put hot food into a freezer, it will affect the temperature and quality of your frozen food. The ideal temperature for your freezer is -18°C.