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How to keep food fresh in the fridge by storing it in the right place

From dairy to meet and leafy greens, keeping foods fresher longer is as simple as knowing how to store them.
/ Source: TODAY

If your broccoli is always going bad before you get a chance to use it or your meat is getting prematurely moldy, you might not be storing your food in the right place.

It turns out, there’s an ideal fridge position where most foods should be stashed for maximum freshness.

Before we dive in to that, here are a few things to keep in mind. Refrigerators should be kept at or below 40 degrees. Resist the urge to pack the fridge too tightly, as the cold air needs to circulate. And while these tips will improve your storage game, remember fridges have different designs, so don’t ignore what you’ve observed about your own refrigerator.

The door

This is the warmest area of the fridge as room-temperature air gushes in every time the door is opened. Put your least perishable items on the door, like ketchup, mustard, soy sauce and other condiments with longer shelf lives. Even though some fridges have door compartments for butter and eggs, it’s best to keep them elsewhere. Some juices can be kept here, too. For example, orange juice is pasteurized and the citric acid naturally prevents bacteria growth.

Where to store eggs in the fridge

Upper shelves

The top shelves have the most consistent temperature in the fridge. Use them for dairy, ready-to-eat foods or leftovers that you want to polish off. Speaking of leftovers, Ken Immer, chief culinary officer at Culinary Health Solutions, told TODAY Food that it's good to keep all leftovers in the same spot in the fridge, preferably in the back of the shelves to remain as cold as possible.

Later, if you try to cram more leftovers that don’t fit into the spot, it will prompt tossing the oldest leftovers out. “Use the fact that it won’t stay in the fridge as an opportunity to throw something away before it rots,” he said. He also recommended storing fresh, leafy herbs like cilantro on the top shelf, stored in a water-filled vase or mason jar with a plastic bag fitted like a balloon over it to keep it fresh.

Bottom shelf

Don’t fall for the trap of storing eggs into the built-in egg-shaped container in the fridge if it’s on the door. Keep eggs in their store-bought cartons and stack them on the bottom shelf. Cold air sinks, so this is often the coldest part of the fridge, particularly in the back. It's also a good place to store deli meat and fish.

Where to store food in the fridge to keep it fresh

Meat drawer

Have a drawer that sits on an angle in the fridge? That’s the best spot for meat, according to Immer, because the bottom of the drawer actually fits tightly up against a refrigerator coil, making it one of the coldest spots in the fridge. Perishable meats like raw chicken or steak should hang out in here. If you don’t have a meat drawer, to help prevent cross-contamination, keep meat in its original packaging and consider buying a clear plastic bin and keeping all raw meat in it on a lower shelf to prevent leakage from anything below.

Crisper drawer

Most refrigerators have one or two crisper drawers that are designed to maintain moisture to help keep fruits and vegetables fresh. If there’s an option, make sure the crisper drawer is on a moist setting because Immer says the dampness prevents produce from drying out. Add a damp paper towel into containers with leafy greens like kale to keep them fresher for longer. Immer is also a big fan of specialty containers for storage. “It reminds you of what’s in the containers,” he said. “Then you’re more likely to actually use it and it keeps it fresh.”

However, there is one problem that may arise if you throw all your produce in there together: Many fruits, such as apples and cantaloupes, release ethylene, which can cause other items to over-ripen. If you have two crisper drawers, separate the ethylene-producing fruits from the others. A general rule of thumb is to keep fruits in one drawer and vegetables as a good shortcut.

What NOT to put in the fridge

Steve Lindner, chef and CEO of the meal service company Zone Manhattan, told TODAY Food that there are quite a few items people mistakenly put in the fridge that shouldn't be there. Those items include avocados, bananas, bread, potatoes, tomatoes and unripened stone fruits like peaches or cherries.

Want to keep your food fresher longer? Check out these handy tools recommended by the pros.

This article was originally published Apr. 28, 2016.