Guide to Storing Food in the Refrigerator to Maintain Freshness

Published 01/20/2023

Avoid spoilage by following this guide in keeping your food fresh in your refrigerator. Learning basic storage techniques will help to keep your food supply safe and healthy.

Meat, Fish, Poultry

  • You want these in the coldest area in your fridge, often but not always at the bottom, ideally stored in their own drawer. If your fridge allows you to adjust the temperature of the meat drawer, set it to 29° F.
  • Keep all fresh meat, fish, and poultry in its store wrapping, as re-wrapping increases the risk of exposing the food to harmful bacteria. If the item didn’t come in a Styrofoam tray, slide a plate underneath it to catch any drippings.


  • When you buy something new, like a fresh gallon of milk, put the older items to the front so that they can be used before the expiration date.
  • Leave cottage cheese, yogurt, eggs, sour cream, milk, and cream in the containers they came in. However, if you transfer milk to a pitcher or sour cream to a serving bowl, don’t return them to the original containers. Instead, tightly cover the pitcher or bowl with plastic wrap.
  • Store hard cheeses in the store wrapping until you use them, then wrap them in wax paper, foil, or loose plastic.
  • Plastic milk bottles make more sense than cardboard cartons, since bacteria can grow near the cardboard spout and enter a glass of milk every time you pour. Nevertheless, as long as you use the milk within its shelf life, it should be safe to drink.
  • Whatever you do, don’t store your milk in the door—it’s the warmest spot in the fridge. The door should be used for nonperishable drinks and condiments only.

Fruits and Vegetables

  • Keep fruits and vegetables separate and store like with like: Apples with apples, carrots with carrots, bananas with bananas. Fruits and vegetables give off different gases that can cause others to deteriorate.
  • Leave refrigerated produce unwashed in its original packaging or wrapped loosely in a plastic bag. (There are exceptions, such as mushrooms and herbs.)
  • If your greens seem sandy or dirty—think lettuce from the farmers’ market—rinse and dry them well, then wrap them in a paper towel before placing in a plastic bag. Otherwise, avoid washing your produce before refrigerating it. The dampness can make it mold and rot more quickly.
  • Fruits and vegetables stored at room temperature should be removed from any packaging and left loose.
  • Store cut fruits and vegetables in the fridge in perforated or unsealed plastic bags to maintain a moist environment yet still allow air to circulate.
  • Keep citrus at room temperature. However, once your lemons, limes, or oranges are past peak ripeness, storing them in the fridge will help them last longer (same goes for tomatoes and avocados). If your citrus starts to turn, you can slice the fruit up and freeze it: frozen citrus is great as ice cubes for drinks.
  • Onions, potatoes, and shallots should be stored in a cool dark place to keep them fresh, like a basket in a cupboard or a cellar. Avoid storing these products in plastic bags as this encourages spoilage. Once cut, onions should be stored in a resealable bag in the fridge where they will last for around a week, or stored in a container and kept in the freezer.
  • If you won’t be eating them immediately, buy bananas when they’re still slightly green and store them away from other fruits in the fruit bowl (they release high amounts of ethylene gas, which as mentioned can cause other fruits to go off more quickly). Consider using a banana tree to keep them separated and minimize bruising.
  • Keep apples in an uncovered fruit bowl on the countertop and make sure to store them out of direct sunlight.


  • Store all leftovers in leak-proof, clear containers or wraps. We love those from Snapware and Rubbermaid—they’re super airtight, which helps your food stay as fresh as possible.
  • Follow the ‘first in, first out’ rule: Always eat the oldest foods first.
  • Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of cooking. And there’s no need to wait for piping-hot foods to cool down before storing them―modern refrigerators can handle the heat.
  • “Throw away all perishable foods that have been left in room temperature for more than two hours (one hour if the temperature is over 90°F, such as at an outdoor picnic during summer),” says the USDA on its website.
  • Divide leftovers into small, flat containers so that they cool faster. Some bacteria spores survive the cooking process and may germinate if the food is at room temperature long enough.
  • Check that your fridge is set at 40°F or below. And don’t just rely on the pre-programmed settings—rather, enlist help from a refrigerator thermometer.
  • Don’t refrigerate leftover soup broth, tuna fish, cranberry sauce, or other foods in cans. Once a can is opened, residual metal on the rim can leach into food and leave a metallic taste.

Learning how to store different types of foods in specific areas of the fridge can help you preserve your food’s unique nutrients, plus ensure that everything in your fridge stays fresher for longer. It’s also important to take your food storage methods seriously since it can help reduce the risk of odors, contamination, bacteria, and other unpleasant food-related issues.

Refrigerator Compartments

Main Compartment

The main compartment of your refrigerator is where the bulk of the food is stored, and there are typically several shelves.

Bottom shelves

The lower shelves are ideal for storing raw meat, dairy, and eggs because the temperature tends to be coldest in this fridge area. The only exception would be if the fridge has a dedicated drawer for these items— in that case, it’s best to store them there since the drawers are specifically designed to maintain a consistent temperature.

Top shelves

On the other hand, your fridge’s top shelves are great for storing things like leftovers, prepared meals, and drinks of all kinds. Herbs can also go on the top shelves to keep them easily accessible, as they are typically used more often than other items. The upper shelves of a typical refrigerator tend to have the most consistent temperature, which is good for preventing foods that spoil quickly from going bad.

Doors of a fridge

Most modern refrigerators have food storage sections inside the door (or doors) for convenience. Some fridges may even have pullout drawers that keep foods available and accessible without even opening the main door!

Regardless of your fridge’s specific features, the refrigerator doors are best used for foods that are best enjoyed cold. Non-perishable items like drinks, some condiments, water, and other items that don’t easily spoil should be placed here.

Drawers of a fridge?

If you have a refrigerator with separate drawers towards the middle or bottom, this is where all your fruits and vegetables should get stored. As you’re putting your groceries away, it’s best to avoid putting any meat with your fruits and vegetables inside these drawers since storing them together can create an increased risk of cross-contamination.

Is it safe to store food on top of a fridge?

Generally, you should be okay to store food items on top of your fridge— with a few exceptions, of course. People often store items on top of their fridges, and it can be super helpful if you’ve got a small kitchen with little to no space for dry food storage.

If you’re utilizing the space on top of your fridge, placing appliances, cookbooks, and other non-food items is perfectly fine. Just make sure you never place items like wine, bread, or coffee here, since the heat from the fridge can cause them to spoil.

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