Minimize Food Waste By Thinking Like A Kitchen Manager

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retrochick.JPGIvy says:

I recently noticed that we were wasting food quite often because of the disorganization of our refrigerator. I talked it over with Mr. Ivy, who just happens to be a restaurant manager and was a kitchen manager for many years and he said, “You really ought to organize the refrigerator the way we do at work.” So, I asked him for some tips and now I share them with you, darling Home Eccers.

minimize food waste

Know your refrigerator’s zones.

A refrigerator is broken up (usually) into 5 sections- top shelf, middle shelf, bottom shelf, drawers, and door.

Ideally the things you want to have in your door are items that are not as important for them to stay at the 40 degrees your refrigerator should be at. Condiments like ketchup, mustard, pickles, etc. can be in the door area safely because refrigeration helps them stay fresh longer, but it is not totally required. These condiments have a high content of vinegar in them, and bacteria grows far more slowly in vinegar based items than it does in other items, like ranch dressing or mayonnaise, which should be kept in the actual refrigerator part. Another item you can keep in the door is butter, again refrigeration helps but is not totally required. One thing that you should never keep in your door although many refrigerators have a section in the door for them is eggs. Eggs go bad much more quickly in the door than in their original packaging which is designed to help keep the eggs fresh.

And, as anyone who has seen my pictures of my refrigerator knows, it’s also a good place to keep alcohol, which doesn’t go bad, but is tastier when cold.

Now, let’s talk about the top shelf. Of course, it all depends on what kind of refrigerator you have and your eating habits, but generally, the items you want to keep on your top shelf are foods that are already cooked, like leftovers, or opened packages of things like deli meats.

The Waste Not, Want Not Cookbook: Save Food, Save Money, and Save the Planet

Remember the FIFO rule.

FIFO- first in, first out- to organize. Oldest stuff goes toward the front, newest stuff goes toward the back. Keep some masking tape and a Sharpie right next to the refrigerator so you can put a date on your stuff. For leftovers, just put the date you put it in the refrigerator. For opened items, use the date you opened the item.

The reason you want to put these sorts of items on your top shelf is first of all, to give them visibility for when you or your kids are staring into the refrigerator, hungry. I personally like to stare into my refrigerator several times a day, since there’s nobody to yell at me about staring into the refrigerator and wasting electricity. Take that, mom! Another reason is because you want to keep these items from being below things you might defrost, like meat that could drip down onto your packaging. Take that, salmonella!

Now, let’s talk about the middle shelf. You should be keeping things here like milk, eggs, mayo, ranch, or any unopened packages that would normally go on your top shelf. What, your middle shelf won’t accommodate tall items like milk? No problem. Just about every refrigerator I have ever seen has adjustable shelves. Get in there and start adjusting. What, you don’t have adjustable shelves? Well, do the best you can.

Your bottom shelf should be considered your defrost shelf, it’s for items that could be potentially dangerous, like raw meats. Make sure when defrosting that you use something underneath like a sheet pan or even just a plate to catch any potential drips. This saves cleaning and also keeps potentially dangerous fluids from getting to anything else you might want to keep on your bottom shelf. Me, I like to keep soda cans there.

Drawers are for produce and fruits and stuff like that. Heather wrote a good post about what to keep in your refrigerator drawers and what the slidy thing is for, so go read that if you need to know what to do with your drawers.

Keep your fridge clean.

How can you keep your refrigerator all nice and clean like Mr. Ivy’s is at work? Well, first you need to clean as you go. Wipe up any spills immediately or  as soon as you notice them.

Once a week, before doing any big grocery shopping go through your fridge.

Make sure everything in your refrigerator is still within date and isn’t growing a science project. Unless you are growing a science project in your refrigerator purposely, of course. While you’re in there, wipe down the shelves and give it a good “dusting.” Mr. Ivy sanitizes his walk-in refrigerator at work something like 3 times a day, but since we’re not running a restaurant, a good sanitizing cleaning once a month or so will suffice.

How to Reduce Food Waste: especially fruits and vegetables


The key to keeping  food waste down is to make a plan and stick to it.

Mr. Ivy pays close attention to the numbers in his restaurant so that ideally, he’s almost out of food when his truck comes. How can we translate that to the home cook? By making a meal plan and doing your best to stick with it. Either cook so you have no or very few leftovers, or plan how you are going to use those leftovers in advance.

Have some flexibility in the plan, so if you really, really, REALLY don’t feel like cooking, you have something easy to pull out so you don’t break down and go to the restaurant. Of course, Mr. Ivy would really like to see you in his restaurant, so plan to come visit him soon. (He totally made me say that.)

keeping the kitchen clean
Click the picture for more tips!

If you plan carefully and keep organized, it’s fairly easy to reduce food waste. It also helps if you have a teenager that’ll eat anything in the house. I rent mine out very inexpensively, in case you need one.

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16 thoughts on “Minimize Food Waste By Thinking Like A Kitchen Manager”

  1. Even though the drawers are for veggies, I find that if I put them on that second shelf, the kids will grab them and eat them, but in the drawer is out of mind, so that’s where I keep lunchables for #3’s lunches.
    I clean the fridge out every Sunday as part of that days chores, and I find that we waste a lot less food because I can say, okay, carrots are looking like they need a home. Who wants them with some dip? By doing it weekly, it takes less than 5 minutes to do and we haven’t had a tummy bug around here in ages. Small price to pay for not throwing up if you ask me.

  2. With five kids and two adults in our house….our fridge doesn’t hold leftovers very long (leftovers=snacks two days later). But I have found that if I put the girls’ lunchie items (that the boys covet for snacks but are NOT for snacks) in the “deli” drawer, they are not snatched!! But now I might kick that up a notch by putting some healhty snacks in their line of sight…..and eliminating some waste because I have noticed they aren’t getting eaten as much as I would like!

    We just bought a new fridge (old one up and died….) and we made sure to get one that had plenty of height (side by side) and organization in there. The shelves are horribly easy to move around ,depending on that fornight’s grocery list. Milk, of couse, is the hardest thing to find room for when there are so many people using it and we go through so much! (Wishlist: 2nd fridge for garage….so we can actually take advantage of the milk and OJ sales when they happen).

    These were wonderful tips…..I have moved the ranch dressing into the fridge-proper now. Had forgotten that the door is lower-temp. Thanks!!

  3. Thanks for that, but we’ve been or hubby has been doing pretty good keeping our fridge in order so when we go shop for the weeks food, we know what we have. Now, for menu, depends on what we want eat that day, although I am starting to plan meals since i’ve been home (still not found work, still unemployed) and my teenager lives with his Dad so its just me and hubby home. Now, if we do have leftovers, its usually eaten up the next day or if I work (2 days/week) I bring it as lunch. WISHLIST – I would love to have a new fridge…

  4. FIFO – First In First Out (as you said) because you don’t want your fridge to smell like FISH – First In Still Here! That’s what we would say at our restaurant lol

  5. Our fridge died this week. It’s on life-support now… fixed, but we don’t know for how long. When we get a new one, I’ll remember to look for extremely adjustable shelves… any other tips?

  6. Heather, that habit probably stopped when child #3 decided she was tired of sleeping 20 hours a day! LOL

    We use to use colored dots for items at the restuarant I worked out. Each day had a color. Ok, might be more expensive then tape and a marker, but it is something that can be done quickly and the kids can help.

  7. Okay…. thanks. When I clean out the fridge (Mondays .. on my day off) I will rearrange shelves and food. Tell Mr. Ivey we appreciate his expertise being shared with us!
    I do keep veggies in veggie drawer (plus a Tupperware container designed for veggies or fruit that has little holes to close or open … cool!) But milk has been in door, and ranch dressing, too. I will repent and mend my ways (it is Lent!)

  8. I’ve labeled the food in my fridge for years with what it is and the date. Most of my friends think I’m a little obsessive but it really does make a difference. I know what it is and when to use it. I also regularly plan leftover nights where we all may be eating different things.
    Best thing about it is that if something really does get left way too long, since I use old margarine containers and the like for food storage, I can just throw it out and not have to check on the weird science experiment happening in there!

  9. Hi 🙂

    I came across your blog this morning and I’m loving this article. I never knew that the area of the door was warmer than the rest – thank you for sharing this valuable information.

    Food waste is one of my bugbears AND I sorted my fridge a couple of weeks back and put some changes in place.

    The top shelf is now used for things that need using up so they are high visibility.

    The salad drawer contains the things that won’t go off for years like the condiments – out of sight, out of mind approach!

    As the shelves go down, the importance of using up is less.

    At the moment it’s working for us. Last week our food waste amounted to half a bag of rocket which we composted.

    I’ve written an article on our site about minimising food waste, which is one of our most read pages. I’m going to add a link to this page, because they work really well hand in hand:

    Thanks again for a great post!

  10. I’ve heard about the door shelf being the warmest before and now I keep my eggs in the main part of the fridge instead of the door.

  11. Ha, this made me chuckle.

    I had two eggs this morning taken from … the fridge door, of course. Will rearrange shortly, although in a 2 and a half person household the fridge is opened sufficiently infrequently to be maintained (possibly) at a slightly lower temperature than Diaper Cakes Becca's fridge door.

    I have a different strategy for reducing waste. My partner buys everything in multiple quantities to get discounts before changing her diet on a weekly basis which makes it impossible to plan and ensure that food gets consumed. I continually rearrange the food, moving stuff towards the top and front so that it is presented to the eyes of others but it just gets ignored.

    Therefore I don't plan. I give up my preferences for the greater good and have for dinner whatever is left and dangerously close to the eat before date. If I can't keep up with the inexorable supply of nearly off food, I support the local population of foxes and birds by throwing stuff into the garden. If it's not good enough for them, then the rest gets composted so ultimately my garden gets fed too.


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