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Refrigerator Food Storage Safety Do's and Don'ts

Whether you've already invested in the perfect refrigerator or you're still looking for the right fridge for your household, it's important to utilize all of the space that is available in this appliance. When it comes to food storage safety, avoiding cross contamination and ensuring the proper temperature of food are key factors. Read on to find tips for organizing your food by refrigerator shelf.  If your refrigerator has fewer shelves, use drawer, bins and other storage options to keep foods separate.  

Refrigerator food storage chart


Food Type

Top Shelf

Ready-to-eat, prepared foods

2nd Shelf

Raw seafood, eggs

3rd Shelf

Raw steak

4th Shelf

Raw pork

5th Shelf

Raw ground beef

6th Shelf

Raw poultry


  • Organize. Sort items like produce, dairy and meats into different groups, placing items into their respective drawers, shelves and other compartments.
  • Add your own organizational storage options. Some refrigerators only offer minimal storage spaces to separate food. Use removable racks for canned beverages, bins for produce, and other containers that can help keep your food easy to find and use.
  • Keep uncooked meats and fish tightly packaged on the bottom shelf. This can help avoid cross contamination by preventing bacteria-filled juices from dripping onto fresh or prepared foods.
  • Refrigerate food within 2-3 hours of cooking. Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly when food is in the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees. As food cools from a cooking temperature to a refrigerated or frozen temperature, it enters that unsafe temperature range. It's important that food temperature quickly drops below 40 degrees and out of the danger zone.
  • Use shallow storage containers. Smaller containers will help food cool to the proper temperature quickly and efficiently. Larger containers will not chill as quickly and will promote the growth of dangerous bacteria.
  • Separate fruits and vegetables. They give off different gases that will encourage rapid mutual spoilage.
  • Secure leftovers in tightly closed containers. Use small airtight containers that will keep food from spilling or drying out.
  • Choose containers that are clear and stackable. You want to be able to quickly see what foods are available in your fridge and maximize space with containers that fit on top of each other.
  • Store food for the right amount of time. Different foods have different storage times. Refrigerated leftovers can keep from 1-5 days and frozen leftovers will stay good for up to 6 months.
  • Label leftovers. Keep track of what is in each storage container and the date when it was prepared.
  • Throw away old leftovers regularly. Rotten produce can cause other produce to spoil faster. Additionally, other foods and leftovers will be unsafe to eat and create unpleasant odors due to illness-causing bacteria.


  • Don't store uncooked meat or fish above other food. Never store fresh produce or prepared foods on a shelf beneath uncooked meat, poultry or fish, even well-wrapped products. Preventing the cross contamination of raw and uncooked products is necessary for safe food storage.
  • Don't place unwrapped food in the fridge or freezer. Not only does this no-no make it easier for cross-contamination and spillage, but also it can also dry out foods.
  • Don't keep refrigerated leftovers for more than a few days. If you have a lot of extra food, you may want to freeze leftovers to preserve them.
  • Don't over-stuff your refrigerator. It will be difficult to find food items in a packed fridge, and the refrigerator is more likely to cool unevenly.
  • Don't stow perishables on the door. Because it is furthest away from the cooling source, the door won't be as cold as the rest of the fridge. It's also more likely to be exposed to the warm air of your kitchen every time you open the door.