7 Simple Rules I Follow to Keep a Clean Fridge (And Never Let Food Go Bad)

published Sep 16, 2023
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A person standing in front of an open refrigerator inside a kitchen
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

I have gone literally years without wasting produce. While I am slightly obsessive, I’m certainly not special — truly anyone can do this, you just need the right system in place. Seriously. With a few small (I promise!) changes, you’ll save money on groceries, reduce your carbon footprint, and even keep your refrigerator clean

How do I do it? Here are seven simple rules and practices I live by to keep my refrigerator clean and clear all year long. 

1. Empty your fridge. 

When you’re out of milk and it’s time to make a trip to the grocery store, empty the fridge. I mean this literally. Take every single thing out of the refrigerator — leftovers, condiments, the cheese hiding in the back of the drawer. That jar of kimchi has been in there so long it’s basically invisible, but you’ll remember you have it when it’s sitting on the counter. 

2. Wipe down the shelves.

If you do this every time you need to grocery shop, it should be easy to wipe the shelves and it’ll take two minutes, tops. (For a deeper clean, you can even put them in the dishwasher.)

3. Make meals with what’s already in your fridge. 

Do not, I repeat, do not make “plans.” Make (easy!) meals right then and there using some of the items you’ve already pulled out of the fridge — no returning produce to the fridge allowed (but do put back the dairy, meat, and anything else that shouldn’t sit on the counter while you cook, of course). 

You can make whatever you like, but I’m a big fan of the just-add-rice method. I season and roast the veggies of last resort on a sheet pan, and pressure cook rice, boil pasta, or make quinoa. Then I mix my carb of choice with the roasted vegetables, fresh produce, whatever cheese I have on hand, and a quick dressing made with languishing herbs. You can throw some of that kimchi in there, too. 

Don’t like rice bowls? A breakfast strata is another great way to use up leftover veggies and bread. Speaking of bread — if you’re a baker, you have even more options. Now’s the time to make muffins with that almost-expired yogurt, scones with leftover fruit, or loaves of zucchini bread. Toss the baked goods in the freezer for a week or two of easy breakfast fare. 

4. Or give it away. 

Food insecurity is incredibly common. Buy Nothing groups and community fridges are great ways to offer your excess. If you don’t have access to organizations that accept homemade food, your neighbors or local retirement homes will probably be delighted if you hand them lunches for the week, just because. (I know I would be!)

5. Relax. (Seriously.)

You won’t need to cook for days. There’s nothing more satisfying than this feeling. Get ready to binge-watch Netflix, take that exercise class you’ve been wanting to try, or spend a little extra time outside. The time is yours!

6. Buy less. 

This sounds simple, but buying less is actually the hardest step in the process. Those peaches at the farmers market look so good, it’s easy to think you’ll eat an entire flat in no time at all. If you’re anything like me, you end the week with moldy peaches, wasted cash, and fruit flies

There are a few workarounds for this problem. To avoid overbuying, try ordering a weekly farm box instead of shopping at the market directly, or, similarly, preorder online for pick up at the grocery store. Plan for fewer meals than you think you need. There will be leftovers, there will be impromptu invites to dinner, there will be days you’re too tired to cook. You can always buy more, but you can never buy less.

7. Cut yourself some slack.

Before you say this sounds like way too much work, remember that this entire process can be completed in the time it would take you to throw out the wasted food, clean slimy spinach from your crisper drawer, drive to the grocery store, purchase replacement groceries, and return to unload. This way, you’re saving the planet and your budget, keeping the fridge clean, and you don’t even have to leave your home. “Slightly obsessive” or not, you can totally make this happen. 

How do you reduce your food waste? Let us know in the comments below!

This post originally appeared on The Kitchn. See it there: I Haven’t Let Food Go Bad in My Fridge for Years — This Is My Trick