/ Food & Drink

What’s in your fridge?

If you’ve discovered food festering in your fridge that’s only fit for the bin, you’re not alone – the average UK household shells out £480 per year on groceries that get thrown away.

Once you add up the amount of food and drink that’s wasted in the UK every year, the stats are quite unpalatable. It comes to 7.2 million tonnes or £12bn worth, according to research by Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

I started to wonder why we’re willing to throw our hard-earned money away this way. Perhaps we’re a nation of bad shoppers and poor planners who buy too much? Or maybe low prices created by years of supermarket price wars have lured us into viewing food as a low-value commodity?

Whatever the cause, the effects are clear – a serious and unnecessary drain on the environment and our finances. What’s more, it’s completely avoidable. And with food prices set to rise as climate change starts to affect global food production, it makes sense to tackle food waste sooner rather than later.

Making the most of your freezer will help you keep food until you’re ready to eat it. And here are some of our tips for keeping fresh produce fresher for longer in your fridge:

1. Check your fridge is cold enough

Do you know how cold it is inside your fridge? Food should be kept between 0 – 5°C to help it last longer and keep harmful bacteria at bay. This is particularly important when you consider that listeria – a bacteria that causes food poisoning – can grow nearly twice as fast at 8°C as it does at 5°C.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that most of our fridges are too warm, so check the temperature inside yours with a fridge thermometer.

2. Store food properly

The top shelf is the warmest part of the fridge cavity and is best for storing pre-prepared foods such as yogurt, cheese and sauces. Cooked meat and leftovers are best stored in air-tight containers on the shelves underneath.

Keep raw meat, fish and poultry in its sealed packaging or in sealed containers on the bottom shelf – temperatures are coldest here.

The temperature in the door racks can fluctuate as they’re exposed to warm air whenever the fridge door is opened. Stow eggs, condiments, jam, bottled drinks and fruit juice here.

3. Keep (most) fruit and veg in the fridge

We bin 4.4 million apples every day according to WRAP. Keeping fruit in the fridge rather than the fruit bowl will help it last longer.

Salad leaves need moisture to stay fresh – they’ll quickly wilt if they dehydrate. Store lettuce in your fridge’s salad crisper drawer and keep it in perforated, loosely wrapped plastic bags. This will let air in whilst preventing too much moisture from evaporating. The packaging of bagged salad from the supermarket is perfect.

Other veg that need high humidity levels to thrive are cauliflower, beans, broccoli, carrots and leafy greens so wrap these in perforated plastic bags, too.

4. Fridge-loathing foods

Not all fruit and veg will thrive in the fridge:

  • Bananas will deteriorate in cold temperatures and their skins can turn black.
  • Pineapples don’t like the cold – they, too, could deteriorate and are best stored at a cool room temperature.
  • Chilling unripe tomatoes before they’ve matured can destroy their flavour. Let them ripen at room temperature, then put them in the fridge to help them last longer.
  • Refrigerating potatoes can increase sugar levels which can convert to acrylamide – a potentially harmful chemical – when they’re roasted, baked or fried at high temperatures. Keep them in a cool, dark, dry place.

Follow these simple steps and you’ll find you spend and waste less. What are your top tips for reducing food waste and making your food go further?

par ailleurs says:
11 September 2012

I know that the usual food worriers will be on my back but I’ve said it before and will say it again. Eat it! That’s assuming it’s not utterly rotten, green and/or smelly. We’re originally designed to be able to eat a bit of grot and we’ve got out of the habit.
Also, shop more carefully. If there’s a chance you can’t eat it or freeze it then it’s not a bargain if you throw it away is it? Let’s adopt a more old fashioned, dare I say it, wartime attitude. After all, you’ve nothing to lose and plenty to gain.

That is rather dangerous advice. Food poisoning is often just unpleasant but it can be very serious. One of our defences is hydrochloric acid in the stomach. The many people who take acid-suppressing drugs such as proton pump inhibitors do not have this protection.

Careful planning means that no-one has to eat old food or waste it.

I don’t think there is one size fits all advice really. I find shopping little and often works best for me, but I live in the city and don’t have any kids… both factors that affect your ability to get to the shops! Having said that, these are my top tips:

* If you can afford it, get an organic veg box delivered – much better value for money than the organic fruit and veg in the supermarket, and generally much fresher produce, which means it lasts for longer. If you can’t afford organic, see if there’s a green grocer or market near you – these also generally stock fresher produce and you will be supporting local business too.

* Perfect the art of one pot wonders – everyone gets it wrong with the food shop now and again, but if it looks like you aren’t going to manage to eat the veggies before they shuffle off then make a big pot of soup, stew or curry to use them up. They freeze really well and then you have ‘ready meals’ for another day.

Response to your request for tips on avoiding wasting food.
I find using any unused veg, cooked or fresh, with meat stock, which I often make from chicken bones and skin, makes a very much appreciated soup (or sometimes “stewp”).
Similarly, I use up any suitable fruit in a fruit salad.

Clodagh says:
14 September 2012

I agree not to put a whole pineapple in the fridge, but if you cut it up and store it in a covered container in the fridge it will keep for a couple of days and seems to get sweeter. By the way – alarming news about potatoes – I didn’t know any of this. The fridge is the only cool place I have for storing them, although I don’t fry them I do bake and roast them. They don’t tend to be in the fridge for more than a week – is that still dangerous?


High temperature cooking such as frying, grilling and cooking food on a barbecue is well known to present health risks, and one of these is acrylamide formation.

If keeping potatoes in the fridge creates a significantly greater problem then it would be useful if pre-packaged potatoes had a warning on the bag.

Although I understand the chemistry involved I have no way of evaluating the risk.

Refrigerating potatoes can increase sugar levels which can convert to acrylamide – a potentially harmful chemical – when they’re roasted, baked or fried at high temperatures. Keep them in a cool, dark, dry place.

Fair enough, but keeping potatoes in the fridge should be OK if they are to be cooked by boiling.

1. Just be a savy shopper. Supermarkets tempt us to buy bigger and bigger by their offers. They do those reductions (my wife is a sucker for those!) which i am forever throwing away.

2. Learn how to cook – make stuff up out of your head. If you know how to cook one soup, one stew, you can vary your ingredients.

3. Don’t go by sell buy. I usually use common sense – if it smells bad bin it, If it’s got mould on it bin it. If its cooked food 5 days in fridge – bin it.

Don Forder says:
17 September 2012

We shop once a week and base our weekly menus around a Sunday joint. We always go shopping with a list based on our menus, so don’t buy more than we can eat. We don’t have a freezer, and store most of our food either in a larder or the fridge. Also we have a good supply of dried food such as pasta, herbs etc. If you want to keep fruit and vegetables fresh, try turning off the heating in your kitchen. This saves fuel and veggies alike.

Thats great if you are extremely well organised but personally I just don’t have time or inclination to plan down to the last detail. It would also loose some spontaneity . What if you fancy sausages on fish night? What if the weather changes and that pasta and salad doesn’t seem so appetizing on a cold rainy night. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that it works for you but I’ve tried this approach a few times and I much prefer not planning.

Mark Woody says:
17 September 2012

Bananas in the fridge may not be very sensible but peeled bananas from the FREEZER are very DELICIOUS!

How does this affect frozen chips?

Caroline Hazell says:
26 September 2012

To keep expensive fresh herbs like parsley, coriander, fennel, for longer, I wrap in damp kitchen paper and place in the fridge wrapped in cling film or a plastic bag.

To keep my veg fresh and able to be used for longer in the fridge, I use a tupperware box with an inner tray with holes in. This allows most of the moisture to drain away. (Lakeland do similar boxes if Tupperware no longer does) I place this box in the lowest section of the fridge, where the veg box supplied with the fridge would normally be. I pack it full of veg and they will least for up to a couple of weeks. Once a day (when I’m cooking dinner and have the box open anyway) I wipe around the inside edges with a piece of kitchen roll to keep away all dampness. This works for most veg (not potatoes but pretty much everything else.
To keep bananas fresh, here is an excellent solution. I bought a ‘Banana Bag’ from Dunelm (cost £5) before going on holiday to South Africa to tour around the Kruger Park. We bought a bunch of fresh bananas, put them in the bag, put it in the fridge when we stopped at a camp and the bananas were kept in the same condition they were when we put them in the bag. I now use such a bag at home, buy several bananas, keep them in the bag, lifting one out the evening before I use it at breakfast the next day. Now I never need to throw bananas away 🙂

harry sibley says:
2 November 2012

You were wrong about your advice to store bananas The fail proof way to keep them is in a plastic bag unperforated in the bottom of the fridge i guarantee they will keep in perfect condition for weeks,when you take one out it may help if there is condensation to turn the bag inside out and replace them in the fridge

Lynda says:
15 November 2012

A great tip for keeping cheese longer is to wrap it in tin foil, I read about this tip a lot of years ago and it works! Also I store bread in the fridge not in a bread bin, the fridge keeps the bread fresher longer.

Lynda says:
15 November 2012

On the point about not storing potato’s in the fridge, my brother inlaw works in a factory and at the factory they store potato’s in the fridge before sending them out to retailers. I have always stored my potato’s in the fridge for the last 12yrs since my brother inlaw told me it keeps them longer! I am ok and have no problems. So don’t understand this issue about potato’s not to be stored in the fridge!

Yes the potatoes will keep longer if refrigerated but the problem is that this could result in more toxic material being produced when potatoes are cooked at high temperature, e.g. roasted, fried or baked.

Jess has drawn our attention to a genuine problem.