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If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then the refrigerator should be considered the heart of the kitchen. Its cool temperatures keep foods fresh and prevent harmful germs from quickly multiplying, allowing us to keep perishable foods safer and for longer amounts of time.
But just how long foods stay safe and fresh in the fridge can depend on precisely where and how you store them. It turns out there's both an art and a science to organizing your refrigerator. Here are five common mistakes to avoid in order to make the best use of this indispensable appliance.
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Mistake 1: Storing raw meat and poultry on the top shelves
Put items that require lower cooking temperatures on the top shelves and foods that require higher cooking temperatures, especially poultry, on the bottom shelf. The reason: If something leaks or spills it won’t contaminate food that may not get heated to a temperature hot enough to kill harmful germs, according to StateFoodSafety, a food safety training company. For example, the safe minimum cooking temperature for poultry is 165 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), but it's only 145 degrees for seafood. Leftovers and casseroles should also be heated to 165 degrees, so store them on the bottom shelf, too.
Mistake 2: Keeping your eggs on the door shelf
Foods stored on the door shelves fluctuate in temperature moreso than those kept inside the fridge, so avoid putting perishables there. Keep the door closed as much as possible, recommends the USDA, to prevent temperature increases. Also note that even when the door is closed, the temperature inside the refrigerator tends to be higher on the top shelf than the bottom shelf, so keep eggs on lower shelves where it's colder.
Mistake 3: Misusing the crisper drawers
Yes, there's a logic to which fruits and vegetables should go into which crisper drawers, since many are designed with different humidity levels to preserve freshness. Generally, produce that is thin-skinned should be stored at a higher-humidity level. Certain fruits and vegetables, especially those that release ethylene gas as they ripen, should be stored in low humidity. Here's a sampling, according to appliance makers KitchenAid and General Electric.
Foods best for high-humidity drawer:
- brussels sprouts
- lettuce and other leafy greens
Try the FoodKeeper app
The USDA offers a free mobile app for Apple and Android users that provides information on how to best store over 400 food and beverage items. It also highlights cooking tips for different types of meats, shows the latest food recalls, and gives an option to log your purchases and receive notifications when your food is about to expire. You can search the app’s food catalog online here.
Foods best for low-humidity drawer:
- oranges and tangerines
- peaches and nectarines
Mistake 4: Waiting too long to put away hot food
You don’t need to wait for your food to cool before you put it in the refrigerator. Hot food won’t harm it. However, if you divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers they will cool more quickly, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The risk in leaving food out to cool for too long is that foodborne germs can begin to multiply rapidly at temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees, a range the USDA calls the "danger zone." The FDA recommends keeping your fridge set to 40 degrees or below for this reason.