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Makeover for Your Refrigerator

by Svjetlana Jovanovic, Dietetic Intern, Montclair State University and Karen Ensle, EdD, RDN, FAND, CFCS, Preceptor and FCHS Educator, Union County

Do you want to save money and prevent food waste while eating healthy? Most of us are busy with work or school, kid’s activities, and our daily activity that we don’t really think about before we go food shopping. It is usually just the next errand that we have on our “to do list”.

When we go to the store we buy things that we think we need for that week and find ourselves at the register thinking why does this item cost so much? At the end of the week we find ourselves throwing out foods that we did not use and the money they cost. According to USDA, approximately 30 % of the U.S. food supply is lost from human consumption at the retail level. Food waste is not just bad for our environment, but it is also money wasted on food we throw away.

When it comes to keeping your budget in check, prevention of food waste, and keeping your refrigerator clean is key. Being organized and ready with a shopping list can help you shop smarter, save time and money. Before you go on your next food shopping trip, keep these simple ideas in mind.

  • First, check out what is in your refrigerator. Check dates on food products and throw out foods that are leftovers after 2 days. 
  • Cook fresh foods that you already have at home before buying more. Be creative. Use the edible parts of vegetables for making soups or stews or chop them up and toss them in your salad.
  • Plan your menu for a week.  Write down all the foods that you need for recipes you plan to prepare.  Check your fridge and food pantry to see what food items are already there. This will save you money and allow you to prepare your selected recipes for the week.
  • Remember to buy only those foods that you need. Check your storage space and pantry.  Buying in bulk is great and saves money only if you are able to use the quantity of food before it spoils.

What do all these dates mean and when should I use the food by?

  • The dates on food packages let us know a lot about products. It tells us when the product is safe to use. "Best if used by" date doesn’t mean that you should throw out your food on that date. It is the date that the food product should be used by for its optimal quality. "Expiration" dates, on the other hand indicate that you should not buy a product after this date. A good rule to follow is  “if in doubt, throw it out”.

Keep your fridge organized and clean

  • Use soap and water to clean your fridge once a week. Make sure to rinse and dry it thoroughly.
  • Be organized. Store food properly in their original containers or store in reusable glass containers. Throw away any unused leftovers or foods weekly.
  • Freeze leftovers immediately after preparing them. Package correctly and write the name of the food and date on the package so that you know when it was prepared.  Different food products have different “use” dates.

Is there a way to store my food properly? The answer is, Yes.

  • It is important to set your refrigerator temperature at 40°F. This will keep food at the correct temperature which will avoid food spoilage and prevent bacterial growth. Keep a thermometer in your fridge and check the temperature frequently.

To keep our food safe and store it to get a maximum freshness follow these steps.

  • Condiments such as ketchup, mustard, jams, relishes have a longer shelf-life and can be stored at on the fridge door.
  • Milk, yogurt, and dairy products should be stored in the coldest place of the fridge which is usually at the top or back of the fridge.
  • Keep eggs in their original cartons in the center of the fridge.
  • Packaged raw meat should be stored on the bottom shelf and make sure the package is properly sealed to prevent dripping juices contaminating other foods.
  • Keep fruits and vegetables in the produce drawer for maximize freshness.
  • Store your food to make meal preparation easier, take advantage of lower prices and be prepared for emergencies.  Keep your food safe and to be of high quality.  Quality of food is improved within the recommended storage time.  See RCE Fact Sheet. E340 Home Storage of Foods: Refrigerator and Freezer Storage.