Oniony milk, rock hard avocados and a drawer you're afraid to open in case it never closes again? You too can avoid kitchen chaos with our simple guide to stocking your fridge, freezer, shelves and cupboards...
In the fridge
The supermarket or grocers gives you a clear indication of where products should be stored. If it's in the fridge in the shop then that's where it should go at home. Some items need to be stored in the fridge after opening and most will then have a date they should be used by so it's worth noting on them when they were opened.
There are a few ground rules for fridges that you'll find in any professional kitchen:
- Ready-to-eat foods - like yogurts, butter, spreads, cheeses and cooked meats should always go on the top and middle shelves.
- Anything that needs to be cooked ie. raw meat and fish should be placed on the bottom shelves so that they don't drip and contaminate the foods you're going to put straight in your mouth.
- Most of us have a salad drawer and it's fine to put your veggies and fruit in there but make sure they get a good wash before you eat them. Ideally you'll keep them covered to avoid any potential spillage on to them.
What not to keep in the fridge
Where possible avoid putting smelly items in the fridge for too long. The worst offenders are raw (peeled) onion, strong cheeses and smoked fish. On the other hand in the case of cheese and fish they do need to be stored at 5C or below to remain safe to eat.
In the winter, it can be possible to store them in a picnic box outside but in many cases it's just not practical. So buy these foods as close to when you'll need them as possible and put them in a sealed container if the smell is strong. Avoid putting them right next to dairy products including eggs or even worse a creamy pudding as the smell can easily transfer. Keep eggs in their box or in a separate covered fridge compartment.
Bread doesn't really benefit from being kept in the fridge - it tends to dry out so keep it in a bread bin or bag. It does freeze well however.
What to do with a stinky fridge
Avoid getting one in the first place by regularly giving the whole lot - shelves, drawers, handles and walls a clean with warm soapy water. Steer clear of toxic or strong-smelling cleaning products as these can transfer to food. If your fridge is still a bit pongy, try using a little diluted vanilla essence on a cloth to freshen it up. Bin any products that are passed their use-by date.
In the freezer
Leftovers should always be cooled as quickly as possible and put in the fridge within two hours. Even better, put spare portions in the freezer. It can be tempting to leave items in the fridge for a few days thinking you'll eat them but often this doesn't happen, especially if you have a lot of leftovers. It's aways worth having a stash of plastic lidded containers and some sticky labels in reserve so that freezing your food is a hassle-free option.
If you do your shopping weekly, check the labels to see when use-by dates are and also if the item is freezable. It's easy to take an item out of the freezer and let it defrost in the fridge overnight, rather than getting to the end of the week and realising that pack of chicken thighs you bought is now destined for the bin.
Our recipes have a blue snowflake symbol on them if they can be frozen. Most foods can be frozen raw, as a part-finished dish or as a complete dish. Check out our guide to freezing.
In the dark
Oils are best kept away from light, heat and air to prevent oxidisation which makes them spoil. So keep your oil in a sealed bottle in a cupboard rather than next to the hob.
Garlic, onions and potatoes also like the dark as this helps to avoid sprouting. A dry environment is best (so resist the urge to wash dirty potatoes before you need them). A brown paper bag is an ideal place to put these vegetables. You'll need a separate bag for each veg.
Fruit bowls and veggie racks
Root vegetables are particularly happy outside the fridge and most other vegetables fare well but if you keep them in the salad drawer of your fridge they will last longer. Leafy vegetables generally last better in the fridge. If you're doing a weekly shop, eat leafy veg earlier in the week and save brassicas and roots for later. Squash and the like will last for weeks.
Citrus fruits, berries, cherries, pineapple and watermelon will not ripen once picked, they just go bad. Keep them in the fridge and you'll slow down that process.
Stoned fruit like peaches, plums and nectarines will all keep ripening as will melons, mangoes and tomatoes. So depending on when you're planning to eat them and how ripe they are, keep them in the fridge or the fruit bowl.
Pears also continue to ripen as do apples but apples tend to get a fluffy unpleasant texture if they get too ripe so if you like a nice crisp bite it's well worth keeping them in the fridge. Keep apples in their own drawer as they give off a gas that can deteriorate other foods.
Banana skin blackens in the fridge so even though the inside will ripen more slowly and taste fine, it can be off-putting. Some people like to freeze bananas and use them in smoothies. Surprisingly this really does work and young children may even be convinced to have this instead of an ice cream (if you're lucky!) You can also pop a ripe banana in a paper bag or drawer with an avocado to speed up the ripening process of the avocado.
Shelves and cupboards
When you're stacking your shelves, group similar items together and put the the things you use most often within easy reach. It's always worth having a clear out from time to time as the least used items can some times fester and end up wasting space you could otherwise use.
With equipment and cooking utensils, again arrange similar items together and keep them near to where they'll be used. Here are a few suggestions:
- Keep pans, trivets, cooking utensils, the spice rack, baking trays, cake tins, oven gloves and a meat thermometer near the hob/ oven.
- Keep tea and coffee making equipment, and mugs near the kettle.
- Keep knives, measuring spoons, weighing scales and chopping boards near the work surface.
- Keep crockery, cutlery and tea towels near the sink/ dishwasher.
- Clear your kitchen surfaces to give you room - so if you only use your bread maker or slow cooker once a week think about putting it away in between.
- Stack vertically not horizontally where possible and go for wall-mounted organisers like spice racks, knife or utensil holders.
- Invest in a cookbook stand if you often use recipe books.
That's enough from us. If you've got any nifty ideas for keeping your kitchen under control, please share them here: