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Before you start preparing all your family's favorite dishes, you have to figure out how to store all the ingredients. You certainly don't want to "spoil" a meal with sour milk or wilted lettuce. Since the temperature in your fridge can range from about 35 F to over 50 F, how you store foods in the refrigerator can make all the difference between a homemade feast and a takeout dinner.
There's no doubt you've heard of the term "zoning" when it comes to cities and towns. Well, zoning rules can apply to your refrigerator too. Certain foods will stay fresh longer in specific "neighborhoods."
Here's the scoop on what to store in each section of your refrigerator:
1. Top and middle shelves: Since warm air rises, this zone will be a few degrees higher than the bottom shelf. It's a good place to store sandwich meats, leftovers and cakes.
2. Bottom shelf: With temperatures at 40 F and below, consider this the "coolest" spot in town. It's the zone to store foods like yogurt, sour cream, cheeses and raw meats (unless your fridge has a separate meat compartment).
3. Crisper drawers: Think of the vegetable crisper as the humid zone that keeps leafy greens from shriveling. If there's a slider bar, you can adjust the humidity from low (for root vegetables) to high (for lettuce, cabbage and bok choy). If your fridge has two crispers, store the greens in one and use the other for root vegetables, citrus fruits, strawberries, grapes and any fruits or vegetables that have been cut up.
Tip: Never put unripe whole fruits such as apples, pears, peaches, tomatoes or bananas in the fridge right away. Store them on your counter to ripen for a few days. Once they've ripened or have been cut, store them with the other fruits.
4. Refrigerator door: The warmer temperatures surrounding the door make it an ideal zone to store mustard, ketchup, olive oil and other condiments. It's also a good spot for storing juice, water, soda and other beverages.
Tip: Try to avoid opening and closing the door too much -- it lets warm air in and defeats the refrigerator's purpose. You should also avoid overloading the fridge as a whole, since it prevents cold air from circulating freely.
POP QUIZ Milk and eggs belong:
a. Behind the refrigerator door
b. On the lowest shelf
Correct answer: b. On the lowest shelf
Temperatures behind your fridge's door can reach up to 50 F -- a little too high for eggs or milk. Store your eggs in a carton on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Milk will stay fresh longer here as well.
The best storage spot for butter is open to debate. Some say it should be kept on the top or middle shelf to be extra-safe. But if you prefer your butter to be a little softer and more spreadable, the butter keeper is fine -- just be sure to close the small door to keep warm air out.
Ela Schwartzis a writer specializing in home furnishing and remodeling for such publications as Kitchen Portfolio, the New York Daily News and At Home Long Island. She has written the book B&N Basics Home Renovation and has been the proud owner of a high-efficiency washer for several years.
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