Life Skill #419: How to fill a refrigerator

Our refrigerators are always crowded. But once you remove the extraneous odds and ends — the half-eaten bagels, mysterious foil-wrapped leftovers, desiccated parsnips in the veggie drawer — and rearrange the fridge's contents with some sense of organization, you'll be surprised how much more fits. Not only that, but what you've got will stay edible longer.

Here, with the help of Whirlpool's Institute of Home Science, are some ideas on getting your fridge in order.

Clear the decks: The first step is to clean out your fridge. A tightly packed appliance not only inhibits good air flow, but it can also result in things being forgotten. The cleaning starts with disposing of old foodstuffs. Take everything out, and set it on a counter for inspection. The Institute offers the nifty Three E's as a guideline: If it's expired, empty or makes you say "ew," toss it.

The Ohio State University Extension offers a comprehensive chart that lists how long various food items can be safely stored; go to http://www.extension.osu.edu (type "safe storage food" in the search field). While the refrigerator is empty, give it a thorough cleaning with warm soapy water, including the shelves and surface areas, compartments and drawers.

Reload: Have a plan for restocking the fridge. The Institute advises that you group similar items together, such as proteins or dairy, and begin returning items to the refrigerator. Keep proteins at the bottom of the refrigerator because that's a cold spot. Meats also keep better on that cold bottom shelf. As a bonus, if meat juices drip, they won't contaminate items below. Condiments and dressings go on the door for a reason: They can tolerate the fluctuating temperatures that come with the door opening and closing. If you have a fridge with a deli drawer — many of which have temperature and humidity controls — use it for cold cuts and cheeses. Fruits and veggies go to the crisper drawer. It might also be wise to invest in a marker to write dates and contents on storage lids for leftovers. And speaking of leftovers, segregate them to one section of the fridge; that way there's less chance they'll be forgotten.

Still too crowded? Even with the most judicious packing and frequent updates, your fridge may still be too crowded. Perhaps there are too many of you. The Institute offers the following rule of thumb: 8 cubic feet of fresh-food storage for every two people, plus an added cubic foot for each additional person. Still not enough room? It might be time to shop for a larger appliance.

bhageman@tribune.com

Toss or save?

Whirlpool's Institute of Home Science offers food storage and leftover freezing tips on its Facebook page. Just click on the "Food Storage Uncomplicated" icon.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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