By Maryn Liles

Keeping a tidy fridge can help you prevent food waste and find what you need faster.

Knowing how to organize your fridge properly is more important than you might think. Not only will it help you be more aware of what you have stored in there (no more containers of month-old lasagna getting pushed to the back or tossing out slimy bags of half-eaten lettuce), organizing your fridge the right way will keep your groceries fresh longer — which cuts back on waste and saves you money.

Before you even start organizing though, make sure your refrigerator is set to the ideal temperature. Inhye Kang, a refrigerator laboratory engineer at LG, says, "The average temperature in your refrigerator should be 37° Fahrenheit. Any higher and you risk food spoiling faster and having items in the 'temperature danger zone,' where bacteria can thrive. Any colder and you risk foods freezing."

Avoid all those possible traps, and make sure your shelves are prepped and ready for your use. Here's the best way to organize your fridge from top to bottom.

Photo: AndreyPopov/Getty Images

Prepared foods and leftovers: Upper shelves

"Leftovers are best kept in the upper shelves. They'll be more visible and will be eaten up faster," Kang says. Jenna Helwig, food director at Allrecipes sister brands Parents and Health, as well as author of the upcoming book, "The Multi-Cooker Baby Food Cookbook," adds, "A good rule of thumb for storing food in the fridge is three days, but some foods keep for less time and others for more. Cooked fish, for example, I don't keep for more than a day or two — not because it's unsafe. It's just less appealing. Some foods, like pasta, soups, and stews, are fine to hang out for four or five days."

When in doubt, "use your nose and your taste buds to determine if a food is still good to eat," she says, in addition to recommending the use of air-tight glass storage containers.

Dairy products: Upper shelves or deli drawer

"Dairy or cheese should go in the upper shelves of the refrigerator, but a designated deli drawer is best if available," says Laura Johnson, a consumer research and technical analyst at LG.

Eggs: Middle shelf

"Eggs are best stored in the fridge cavity, not in the door; and store them in their original carton," Johnson says.

Related: 5 Things You Don't Know About Storing Eggs

Fruits and veggies: Crisper drawer

"It's best to store fruits and vegetables in the drawers designed for them so humidity levels are correct. They'll last longest that way," explains Kang.

"I like to wash lettuce — and other leafy greens or herbs — as soon as I get them home," Helwig adds. "That way, they're ready when I am, and there's no excuse not to eat them," which helps cut back on food waste. "The trick is to wash and dry them very well," she explains. "I store them in a plastic zip-top bag with a paper towel to pick up any excess moisture. Just be sure to get out as much air as possible from the bag."

Meats: Bottom shelf or drawer

"Meats are best stored on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator — or better yet, in one of the drawers — so if any juices drip, they're not contaminating all the items below it," Johnson says. "Typically the lowest part of a refrigerator is the coldest, so meat can be kept colder at the lowest shelf or drawer."

Condiments, sodas, and the like: In the door

"Most people think they should store milk and eggs in the doors. In fact, the doors are the warmest part of the fridge, so perishables really shouldn't be stored there," Kang says. "Instead, keep things like condiments and sodas in the doors."

General rule of thumb for fridge organization

"Overall, it's good practice to store foods that will be cooked on the lower shelves, and foods that won't be cooked (or are already cooked) on upper shelves. Generally, this will help prevent cross-contamination," Kang says.

Johnson adds that following the FIFO rule — First In, First Out — can help: "Always try to put new items behind old items. This will help you cut down on food waste by using up the oldest stuff first," she says.

And while you're at it, be aware of what foods shouldn't be stored in your fridge at all, such as tomatoes, potatoes, onions and garlic, according to Johnson. "They lose flavor when stored under cold temperatures and are best stored in cool, dark, dry spaces."

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