How to clean and organize your pantry and refrigerator

Follow these four tips to pare down the pantry and free up the fridge.

Kitchen Organization Tips

January is a great time to take inventory of your fridge and pantry. The food rush of the holidays is over, New Year’s resolutions can inspire a clean slate (and clean eating), and the wintry weather makes it an opportune time to stay in, hunker down, and get organized.

Here are four steps to a clean, orderly, and well-stocked pantry and fridge.

Step 1: Remove everything

Start fresh by clearing everything out of your cupboard, pantry, or refrigerator. Once everything is out, wipe down the shelves with warm, soapy water, making sure to clear crumbs and remove any sticky residues.

Step 2: Assess your goods

Think in terms of keep, donate, or toss. Keep the obvious items — food you use regularly, intend to use in the near future, or just bought. Make a “donate box” for any canned or packaged food that’s still fresh and unopened, but you know you won’t use — like that can of cranberry sauce left over from Thanksgiving — then find a local food bank and donate it. Finally, throw out anything nearly empty, old, or spoiling, and jot down what you’ll want to replace on your next grocery trip.

A note about expiration dates:
You should replace most dried herbs and spices every six months, but things like honey and brown sugar can last indefinitely. As for opened items, a sniff or taste test is often reliable — if those crackers taste stale, toss them. When it comes to unopened canned or packaged goods, be aware that they still may be worth keeping even if the “use by” or “best by” date has passed. The date indicates when the product reaches peak freshness, not when it’s no longer safe to eat.

As for refrigerated items, use your best judgment and do a little detective work. If you’ve had a half-eaten jar of pickles in your refrigerator since your housewarming barbecue four years ago, toss it. If you’re on the fence about that half-used bottle of salad dressing, use a website like to research shelf life information for thousands of items.

Step 3: Organize

By now, your cleaned pantry and refrigerator will be dry and ready for restocking. Take some time to get organized first. Line your pantry shelves with shelf liner, which makes for easy cleanup in the future, and add bins and baskets to corral like items (all of those granola bars, for example). Invest in glass or plastic containers to store bulk shelf-stable items like pasta, flour, sugar, tea bags, and more.

The same goes for the fridge: Use a refrigerator-friendly organizer to dispense cans of soda, a bin to hold cheeses, and a sturdy plastic egg holder to replace the store’s Styrofoam container. You can even invest in reusable produce bags, which help remove ethylene gas and prolong the freshness of your vegetables.

Step 4: Restock your food

Add back the food you kept, being mindful of how you place things in the pantry. For example, you may want to keep juice boxes on a lower shelf, so children can easily access them. Keep everyday things like cereal in an easy-to-reach spot. Finally, group by category: Keep all your baking supplies together, and store your cans of diced tomatoes in a row, so you can check your inventory with one glance.

Stocking the fridge can be even more strategic. Use your upper shelves (often the coldest part of the fridge) for leftovers, drinks, or ready-to-eat food like yogurt or cheese. Use drawers for produce and meats, but make sure the meat drawer is below the produce, to decrease risk of contamination from drips. Finally, do not put dairy like eggs or milk on the door, since it’s the warmest zone. The door is best for condiments or juices, which are more resistant to temperature fluctuations.

Once you’ve restocked, don’t forget to complete the project by donating your unused food and buying the replacement items you noted in step two. Your kitchen will be off to a clean and orderly start in the New Year — your new gym routine is still on you!

Written By: Liz Olech