Ever find yourself frustrated to find wilted and wrinkly vegetables in your fridge, questioning the expiry dates of your dairy products, and unsure about the “mystery meats” in your freezer?  This may all be avoided!

Refrigeration organization is key, because, what and where you store your food can have a significant impact on its quality! By knowing proper refrigeration and freezing techniques, we can ensure quality and freshness of foods (as best as possible) from purchasing to consuming.

It is easy and tempting to quickly shove food items wherever it seems to fit best (we all love a good game of tetris!), but by taking a couple of extra minutes and following these simple tips, you can prolong freshness and shelf-life of all food groups, while optimizing food safety.

Let’s start with the basics – Organizing your fridge!

It may seem intimidating to see all the shelves and drawers and not know where each food item should go. You’re not alone here! Here are some tips to get started:

  • The top shelf should consist of leftovers and ready-to-eat foods, as they have already been cooked. If storing leftovers, make sure they are cooled in the fridge in shallow containers. Their ideal shelf-life is 3 days, depending on the food items.
  • The middle shelf is a great place to store dairy products and eggs.
  • The bottom shelf should contain raw meat to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Drawers are a great place for fruits and vegetables.

For those who are visual learners, download my free handout below on how this might look!

Fruits & Vegetables

Certain fruits and vegetables should be stored in the fridge, some in the pantry, and some should be separate from others. This can be confusing, but it’s easier than you think:

Fridge storage for fruits and vegetables:

Keep fruits that produce ethylene (the gas produced to ripen fruit) separate them from foods that don’t. Ethylene producing fruits and vegetables include apples, pears, grapes, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, melons, peaches and papayas. Also, ensure that ethylene-producing foods are kept in loosely-tied bags.

All pre-cut and ready-to-eat produce must be refrigerated right away!

Freezing fruits and vegetables

You may have had that annoying task of hitting that frozen bag on the counter in order to get separate pieces of fruits and vegetables (I know I have!). Good news, this can be prevented or minimized.

Lay your frozen fruit (for example, berries) on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, and place them in the freezer for 20-30 minutes, then transfer to to a bag and place back in the freezer. This will ensure that they don’t freeze together.

Not enough room for a tray in your freezer??

If you have time, take other items out of the fridge that may be okay to sit temporarily in the fridge. This can include coffee, nuts, and large chunks of meat, which will not defrost within 1-2 hours.

Not enough time or space?

Lay the bag of frozen berries flat in the freezer. While this may not completely prevent them from sticking together, it may minimize it.

Meats

Storing meat products have specific rules that should be followed to prevent the risk of food poisoning. A few tips that make this less of an intimidating task:

  • Placing meat on the bottom shelf of the fridge minimizes risk of foodborne illness by preventing raw meat drippings from making contact with other foods in the fridge.
  • If you want to be extra precautious, store meat in sealed containers
  • Storing meat in the freezer, like other foods, will prolong its shelf-life by about 4-6 months, depending on the type of meat. Check out my handout below for a breakdown on the optimal storage time of certain meats.

Grains

Bread: I LOVE buying bread on sale and freezing it right away! It’s a great way to save some money and reduce waste. When you want to use it, defrost it in a sealed bag or container overnight or just pop it in the toaster or oven.  

Uncooked pasta can be kept in your pantry for 12-18 months. If you are looking to speed up cooking time, cook pasta and freeze it for later! To do this, cook it until it is pliable, but still chewy (approximately 6-7 minutes), drain and freeze. Fully cooked and frozen pasta will turn mushy once reheated.

Cooked rice, quinoa, and other grains like this should be stored in the fridge and kept out of the “danger zone” (4C-60C). This, like any other leftover, will prevent growth of harmful bacteria.

Dairy

Clients always ask me if they can eat cheese or yogurt past the “best before dates”. Knowing the difference between the expiry versus the best-before dates is very important for reducing food waste, and even saving some money at the grocery store.

Best-before dates

  • Found on pre-packaged food and they indicate the total duration in which an unopened food product, stored in appropriate conditions, will keep freshness, taste, and nutritional value.
  • These items may be consumed past their best-berfore date depending on when it was opened or if it was frozen prior to eating. That said, make sure to use your sound judgment. If you see mold on it or it smells off-putting, no matter what the date says, don’t eat it!  

Expiry dates

  • Found on nutritional supplements, infant formula, and meal replacements.
  • Required on foods that may not contain the same level of nutrition and freshness past a certain date and should not be consumed or purchased after this date has passed.

Extend Shelf-life

Here’s some tips & tricks I’ve used to extend the shelf-life of dairy:

  • Buy hard cheese (mozza, cheddar, parmesan) at discounted price, shred and freeze. Keeps for 6 months.
  • Turn leftover yogurt or milk into a smoothie, and freeze for popsicles, or in an ice cube tray to revive them back into a smoothie form later.
  • Mix plain yogurt with salt and strain to make Labneh – a strained-yogurt cheese spread. This extends the shelf life for at least 3-4 days since salt is a preservative.  
  • Use milk to make homemade yogurt, bread pudding, baked oatmeal/flapjacks, or rice pudding.  

Takeaway

Knowing proper storage techniques and shelf-lives of food types, can make a huge impact on retaining the quality of your food and even potentially reducing food waste!

Your turn – do you struggle with knowing where to store certain food items? Share below!

Blog Contributors

This blog was a guest post written in collaboration with UBC dietetic students, Jennifer and Mikaela.

References:

Love Food Hate Waste. (2019). Best Before Dates. Retrieved on May 5, 2019 from https://lovefoodhatewaste.ca/use-it-up/best-before-dates/?fbclid=IwAR0Io73cDgr0U_Y2qDTE2sSd_JsDd7dAdgORTh599EHq1ZoG2-hjkdVOD70

nutriFoodie. (2019). Storing Fruits and Veggies. Retrieved from May 5, 2019 from https://drive.google.com/file/d/1g4A_kT1SIdTf736W_Foj8Iy1BPOcaRFH/view

Canada Food Inspection Agency. (2019). Date Labelling on Pre-packaged Foods. Retrieved on May 5, 2019 from http://inspection.gc.ca/food/information-for-consumers/fact-sheets-and-infographics/date-labelling/eng/1332357469487/1332357545633