After schlepping to the supermarket and back, you might be tempted to unload your haul as quickly as possible so that you can kick back and relax—or at least move on to other household chores. But carefully stocking your fridge will help cut down on food waste, not to mention the risk of foodborne illness.     

Smart food storage takes into account the fact that climate conditions vary throughout a refrigerator. Door bins and upper shelves tend to be warmer than bottom shelves and deli compartments. Crisper drawers, meanwhile, can often be adjusted to create more or less humidity, depending on what’s going inside.

Here's a step-by-step guide to organizing your refrigerator. Even if your fridge's layout differs slightly, the same basic storage principles should deliver optimal results. 

Step One: The Door

In our temperature performance tests, which occur in climate-controlled chambers where we crank the heat up to 110 °F, temperatures on the door climb a couple degrees higher than the main compartment. That’s too warm for milk and eggs, despite the fact that many refrigerators have gallon door bins and egg-shaped compartments that seem like ideal places for these items. Instead, reserve the door for items that can handle warmer conditions, including the following:

Cooking oils

Step Two: The Meat/Deli Bin

This storage option is most common on French-door bottom-freezers, where it typically sits beneath the crisper drawers. It’s a helpful feature, especially if the temperature can be adjusted to best accommodate a range of foods—cooler for cured meats, for example, and warmer for a platter of hors d'oeuvres. Here’s the items that belong in the bin:

Deli meats
Hot dogs

Step Three: The Crisper Drawers

Crisper drawers are designed for produce. On many refrigerators, the humidity can be adjusted from high, ideal for most wilting vegetables, to low, best for a lot of fruits, plus some vegetables with thin skins that like the air a bit dryer. Even if your crisper drawers aren’t adjustable, the following division will help maximum freshness by keeping like-reacting produce together.

Low-Humidity Drawer
Avocados (once ripe)
Peaches, Pears, Plums, Nectarines (once ripe)
• Peppers
Melon (once ripe)
• Summer squash

High-Humidity Drawer
Green Onions
Leafy Greens

Step Four: The Lower Shelf

The lower shelf, usually located in the middle of the fridge, tends to be the coldest part of the refrigerator. This makes it ideal for storage of items that are more susceptible to developing harmful bacteria, including the following: 

Eggs (in their original carton)
Raw fish, meat, and poultry (on trays to catch drippings so as not to contaminate other foods)

Step Five: The Upper Shelf

The upper shelves, conversely, are the warmest part, with temperatures often reaching up around 40 °F. That’s too warm for milk and eggs, though yogurt is okay because it's fermented. Here’s the complete list of what to store on the top shelf. 

 Jam & Jelly  
Leftovers (large amounts should be transferred to several small containers so they’ll cool faster. Position towards front of fridge so you don't forget them)
Peanut butter
 Snacks (like hummus and fruit cups)

Refrigerator No-Nos

Knowing what goes where in the fridge can prevent spoiling. You also need to know which foods don't belong in the fridge in the first place. Here’s a look at that list: 

Bread (freezer is okay)
Onions (keep away from potatoes)
Potatoes (keep away from onions)

Loading a Refrigerator

Stop throwing money away on spoiled food! Consumer Reports expert, Ellen Klosz, shows 'Consumer 101' TV show host, Jack Rico, how properly loading a refrigerator can save consumers' food and money.