Organizing a Refrigerator by Temperature

posted by Andrea | 02/15/2012

Several weeks ago we started having major issues with our refrigerator — yeah, it’s old, but we’re hoping it will last until this summer when we are planning to do a big kitchen renovation!!

The first problem was that the contents of the produce drawer kept freezing… which meant lots of unintentionally frozen fruits and veggies… which meant I made lots of soup and pie :)

However, in a successful attempt to fix the fridge, we some how managed to “break” the freezer… so now the freezer does NOT freeze.

At the end of this whole process, we were basically left with one big refrigerator and no freezer — which is not the most ideal situation, but at least we have our deep freezer downstairs!

Anyway, as we were trying to “unfreeze” the refrigerator and “refreeze” the freezer, I put several thermometers inside to monitor the temperature. To my surprise, I noticed that the top shelf of our refrigerator was 10-12 degrees warmer than the bottom drawers — and the same was true for the freezer!

I know that “heat rises” but I figured the temperature inside our fridge would be almost the same since it’s regulated with a thermostat. However, after doing a bit of research, I read that this is quite normal {especially for side-by-side units}.

So I decided to reorganize our fridge… by temperature!  

Here’s what I did:

TOP/MIDDLE SHELVES = left overs that will get eaten in a day or so, items I’m defrosting from the freezer, other packaged items that won’t “go bad” as quickly

MIDDLE/BOTTOM SHELVES = milk, juice, yogurt, eggs, lettuce and other dairy items that have a shorter shelf life and need to be kept colder

TOP DRAWER = fruits and veggies

BOTTOM DRAWER = meats and cheeses

Also, since the freezer side of our refrigerator doesn’t freeze, I’m using that for storing extra gallons of milk {I usually buy 2 or 3 at a time} extra dairy items, leftovers, and anything else that won’t fit in our fridge. The only thing I won’t put in the freezer side is produce because I think it’s a little too cold for that.

Even though it was a HUGE pain to deal with a dysfunctional fridge and freezer for a couple weeks, I’m so glad we now have more fridge space AND that our food seems to be lasting longer due to storing it at the proper temperatures. 

And I’m all for less wasted food!

We can live with our crazy fridge for a few more months… but this will make it all the more exciting to get a brand new one when our kitchen renovations start this summer. I have my eye on a counter-depth unit with French doors and a double pull-out freezer drawer :)

Oh, and in case you’re interested — here’s how I organized our refrigerator in our old house.

Have you ever checked the temperature in your fridge?

If you’ve noticed that some of your food isn’t staying as fresh as you’d like, you may want to rearrange your fridge by temperature too!

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18 comments

  1. Angie Roop

    02/15/2012

    Heyyyyyyyyyy,
    Why not put lettuce in top drawer w/fruits and veggies? Love your site!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Angie, the only reason we don’t put the lettuce in with the fruits and veggies is because we store our lettuce in a large plastic tub and that won’t fit in the drawer!

    [Reply]

  2. Thrifty Military Mommy

    02/15/2012

    Excellent Idea!!! We don’t have a side-by-side, but if we did I wouldn’t have know what to do with it if it started malfunctioning like that. I probably would’ve just thrown it out. So thanks for sharing. I’m going to log this into my brain and hopefully if we ever do have a side-by-side, or if for some reason my current top-freezer refrigerator starts to do the same thing, then I’ll know what to do.

    You’re awesome!

    [Reply]

  3. Shanna

    02/15/2012

    Things on the back of my top shelf tend to freeze and 2 of my 3 drawers end to also, there are temperature sliders on the fronts we can adjust.

    [Reply]

  4. Meredith

    02/15/2012

    I have to do this now. I have a side by side but I kept noticing my daughters water bottle kept freezing on the top shelf. My only foreseeable problems is that we don’t eat meat, so that top small drawer is perfect for cheese and our huge bottom drawers store fruits and veggies. I may have to do some rearranging!

    [Reply]

  5. Shari~Rain into Rainbows

    02/15/2012

    Huh — I keep trying to pin this onto Pinterest & the photos keep pinning horizontally instead of vertically. Any ideas why??

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Sorry, not sure. I tried pinning it and it worked fine. However, it might have issues if you are trying to do it from your phone. For some reason, the photos showed up horizontally on my phone?? Weird!

    [Reply]

  6. Edie

    02/15/2012

    Hmm…I need to test the temp differences between the different areas in mine. I always put yogurt, sour cream, and butter on the top shelf, but if our side by side runs that much warmer on the top shelf like yours, then I need to do some rearranging! Looking forward to your kitchen remodel! I have big dreams of an armoire style fridge with the freezer on bottom also!

    [Reply]

  7. Ann

    02/16/2012

    Sometimes the top is warmer because it is nearer to the light. Even though the light isn’t on often, it still generates heat.

    [Reply]

  8. Kelly

    02/16/2012

    I was just wondering if you knew about the rules for storing food? It’s standard in the restaurant business, but I’m not sure how many non-culinarians know about it. Basically you want to keep all your raw food at the bottom (beef above or next to poultry), produce in the middle, and cooked/ready-to-eat at the top. The reason for this is so that if your refrigerator or freezer were to ever breakdown and defrost/lose temp before you could notice or fix it, nothing would be contaminated. Unfortunately most fridges aren’t built to accommodate this safe system, so I end up with a shelf full of veggies and a drawer full of meat!

    [Reply]

  9. Recommended: 2/18/2012 | | SerentipitySerentipity

    02/18/2012

    [...] How to Organize A Refrigerator by Temperature [Simple Organized Living] I knew there were temperature differences between shelves, but I had no [...]

  10. Organizing tips for your most private spaces | Smart Living Blog

    02/22/2012

    [...] Well, here’s an interesting post on organizing your fridge, but it has nothing to do with aesthetics. Instead, Andrea Dekker says you can actually save money by organizing your food according to temperature, because the top shelves can be 10 to 12 degrees warmer than the drawers at the bottom (especially if you have a side-by-side model). If you notice that some of your food is spoiling quicker than it should, check out this post and start rearranging! (Simple Organized Living) [...]

  11. Rona

    02/22/2012

    Hi Andrea! Just wondering what kind of fridge thermometer did you use?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I actually just used a normal room thermometer… Just a battery powered one we had sitting around!

    [Reply]

  12. Amie

    03/21/2012

    Andrea –

    Yesterday I awoke to a warm refrigerator. I thought of this post! THe electronic panel on my fridge told me I needed to vacuum the condenser. Have you done this? I was shocked to find an inch of lint on mine…no wonder it stopped working. I was lucky to find a video on youtube which explained how to do this! Apparently you are supposed to do this every three months – I had no idea! Only hours after I did this, a good friend had her refrigerator start on fire and burn her floors – due to the condenser being dirty! I am lucky that didn’t happen.

    I had the service man come out to check the fridge (just to be safe) and found out the cooling coil was broken and needed replacing in addition to cleaning the condenser. I just thought I’d mention that vacuuming the condenser should be on everyone’s occasional “to-do” list. A little extra vacuuming beats a house fire or broken fridge!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Oh no! Well, I’m glad you “fixed” your fridge for now! I think our fridge is done… for good :(
    We are using a small extra fridge we have for now, but hopefully next week we’re going to get a new one.
    Thanks for the tip though!

    [Reply]

  13. L.

    03/27/2012

    Do u think fridges that have the freezer over the fridge are diff degrees higher up then it is on the bottom?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I don’t think they fluctuate as much — but I know the temperature of the shelves on the door can be noticeably higher than the back of the fridge

    [Reply]

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