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Get fridge smart

How much thought do you put into your refrigerator? If your food isn't keeping as long as you'd like, perhaps not enough.

Fortunately, it doesn't take much to start using your fridge more intelligently, and the reward for doing so is fresher, better-tasting food, and less wasted money, too. Click through for some handy tips to get you started.

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Keep it cool

Everyone knows that refrigerators keep food cold -- but how cold is cold enough?

Per the FDA, you'll want your refrigerated goods to stay at 40 degrees F or below, with the freezer set to 0. Temperatures will fluctuate in any fridge, so setting it a few degrees lower isn't a bad idea at all. If you really want to be a stickler, you can place an appliance thermometer or two inside the thing.

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A complex climate

It's important to understand that your refrigerator's running temperature is an estimated average for the many different zones inside. Just because you set the thing to 37 F doesn't mean that the entire body of the fridge sits uniform at that temperature. Different zones will cool differently, which makes it critical to place foods in the right spots.

The coldest, truest temps are generally found at the bottom of the fridge's main body (hot air rises, after all). That's why you'll usually find drawers for fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses, and other key ingredients down there. Also, the doors almost always run a little warm, as this Electrolux model we recently tested shows.

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In the door

Since the doors run warm, you'll want to avoid placing things like milk and eggs in the in-door shelving units. Instead, go with non-perishable stuff like soda, along with items that are high in salt and preservatives, like condiments.

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What about OJ?

As for orange juice, it's safe to store in the door if it's a pasteurized carton. If it's fresh, non-pasteurized OJ, keep it with the milk and other delicate ingredients in the body of the fridge.

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Let your cheese breathe

Speaking of delicate ingredients, there's a better way to refrigerate cheese than that tight plastic seal, which can actually promote the growth of unwanted bacteria. Instead, wrap your cheeses in wax paper before tossing them in the fridge. If you're worried about things drying out, slip the wrapped cheese into a plastic baggie, but don't seal it all the way -- cheese often gives off ammonia, and you want that to be able to dissipate.

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Use the crispers correctly

The crisper bins in your fridge are really helpful, but only if you use them right. Certain fruits like cantaloupes and apples release odorless ethylene gas, so you'll want to keep them separated from your veggies, many of which will absorb that gas and decay faster because of it.

If your crisper drawers let you adjust the humidity settings, great. Dial the humidity down for things that tend to rot and release that ethylene gas. The low humidity setting keeps the bin vented and gives that gas a chance to escape.

The high humidity setting closes that vent, so you'll want to use it for fruits and veggies that are sensitive to moisture loss, and stuff you want to isolate from any ethylene gas, too. For reference, here's a handy list of what to refrigerate where.

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No spuds

You'll notice potatoes aren't included on that list at all, and for good reason. Refrigerate a potato, and you'll turn its starch into sugar, making for a distinctly unpleasant taste.

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Crowd control

Outside of the bins, you want to be sure that cool air can circulate, so make sure that things don't get too crowded. Otherwise, you'll risk ending up with hot spots.

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Save the rinse

One other tip: don't wash your food until you're ready to start cooking with it. If you wash an ingredient, then put it back into the fridge, the extra moisture could speed up decay.

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