Written by Make Food Not Waste

Keeping your refrigerator and pantry organized is one of the best tools for fighting food waste.

Food waste often happens because we don’t know it’s there. When food gets hidden at the back of the fridge, it’s much more likely to be forgotten and wasted. Plus, there are lots of ways to keep your food fresh longer by storing it correctly.

We’ll walk you through how to organize your space so you’ll be able to take a huge bite out of your household food waste.

1. Take “best by” dates with a grain of salt

Our most important tip gets at the biggest source of food waste in homes: misunderstanding date labels.

With the exception of baby formula, date labels aren’t federally regulated. They also aren’t an indication of food safety, but of peak quality.

The “best by” date simply means that the manufacturer thinks the product will taste the best before that date. Plenty of foods are perfectly good to eat after that date has passed.

  • Eggs are often good ​​3 to 5 weeks past the printed date. Test an egg’s freshness by popping it in a cup of water. If it sinks, it’s good to eat. If it floats, toss it (eggs lose moisture when they age which creates an air pocket, making them buoyant). If it sinks but goes vertical, eat it soon (older eggs are great for hard boiling!).
  • Milk is often good for up to a week past the printed date. Plus, it’s simple to tell if it’s gone off—just give it a smell and you’ll know right away.
  • Canned goods can last for years after the printed date as long as they’ve been stored properly and the can itself is in good condition (no rust, dents, or swelling). Foods that are more acidic (like tomatoes or pickles) will expire sooner, while low-acid canned foods (like beans, corn, or pumpkin) will last for a longer amount of time.

So, how can you tell if your food is still good to eat? Use your senses. Take a close look and give it a smell. If it seems fine, give it a small taste. If it passes all three tests, it’s probably just fine to eat. You can also use the USDA’s FoodKeeper App to help you decide.

2. Start with a clean slate

Now that you have a better baseline for deciding what’s still good to eat in your kitchen, it’s time to clear out any foods that you’re truly not going to eat. Removing spoiled or unwanted foods from the equation will make it easier to see and organize the foods that are left.

Start by composting or trashing anything that’s not salvageable. Get rid of anything that’s moldy, visibly spoiled, or smells off.

If you come across something you know you’re not going to use before it spoils, give it to a friend, neighbor, or family member who will.

You can also donate those unspoiled items to a food pantry or a community fridge in your area.

3. Create a “use this first” spot

Now that you’ve likely cleared some things out, it’s time to organize your food.

Designate a “use this first spot” in the fridge and pantry. Move everything that needs to be used ASAP to this spot so you know at a glance what to consume first. If possible, put this spot at eye level so you’re more likely to see everything.

Foods you might want to put in this spot:

  • Leftovers
  • Open containers of milk, yogurt, or other dairy products that don’t have a long shelf life
  • Open containers of prepared foods and dips like potato salad or hummus
  • Tender herbs like parsley, cilantro, or basil
  • Greens like spinach, lettuce, or bagged salads

Now, when you go to cook or grab a snack, check this spot first and see how many of these “use first” items you can finish off.

4. Store everything in its right place

Make sure you’re working with your fridge by storing things in the right place. This will help your food last longer and taste better.

A few general rules for how to arrange your fridge:

  • The door is the warmest spot in your fridge. Only store items here that aren’t at risk of spoiling, like drinks and condiments.
  • The bottom shelf of the fridge tends to be the coldest spot. Store items like meat and dairy here.
  • Use your crisper drawers. They help control humidity to keep your produce fresh longer.
  • Buy a fridge thermometer, and make sure the temperature stays within the food safety zone: 40°F or below.
  • Store leftovers in clear containers so you can easily see what’s in there.

Beyond where you store everything, how you store it matters too. A few storage tips to try:

  • Store fresh herbs in a jar of water—like a vase of flowers—in the fridge
  • Potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place. Never put them next to onions—they emit a gas that can make your potatoes rot faster.
  • Let your avocados ripen on the counter, then move to the fridge once they’re ready to eat. Keep an eye on them, they ripen and start to brown fast!

Check out the Save The Food Storage Guide for more tips.

5. Label everything

Have you ever put leftovers in the fridge only to pull them out days later with no memory of how long they’ve been in there?

Remove the guesswork and label everything that goes into the fridge or freezer.

Mark what the item is and the date you stored it so you can more easily judge if it’s still good to eat.

Follow these tips and you’ll be wasting less and enjoying more of the food you buy in no time!


Make Food Not Waste is a Detroit-based nonprofit with a mission to keep food out of landfills and slow climate change by creating lasting solutions to food waste through education, food upcycling and advocacy.

Learn more at www.MakeFoodNotWaste.org


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