Ask Lynn: Organizing your fridge

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Several food items inside a refrigeratorDear Lynn,

This morning it took me almost 15 minutes to find my favourite jar of homemade strawberry jam in the refrigerator. As my sight declines, finding items in the fridge is becoming more and more like a chore as I am no longer able to read food labels. Can you give me some recommendations to make this task easier?

-Missing in Action

Dear Missing in Action,

Locating food items in the refrigerator can be made easier if you follow these simple steps:

  • Be sure to have a place for every food item and always return it to this same place when you put it back into the fridge. For example, the margarine is on the top shelf at the far right or the mayonnaise is on the third shelf on the fridge door.
  • Use trays or baskets to group similar items. If you are able to see some colours, choose baskets in these colours. For example, all your jam jars could be placed in a red basket. The basket should extend the entire depth of the fridge. This will allow you to slide the basket halfway out of the fridge, locate the jar you want, and then slide the basket back in. This will prevent food items from mistakenly being pushed to the back of the fridge.
  • Many food products can be easily identified by their size, shape or colour. For example, the ketchup bottle is a unique shape and therefore probably does not need a label. However, if you have two jars that are a similar shape, size, or colour, you can simply distinguish the jars using an elastic band or raised peel-and-stick marking.
  • Pile of brightly coloured elastic bands Elastic bands are a cheap and easy method for labelling. When labelling similar food items with elastic bands, do not forget that elastic bands come in many sizes and colours. Or use multiple elastic bands to identify a jar. For example, if you have three salad-dressing bottles, place them in alphabetical order. Put no elastic band on the Caesar dressing because it is at the beginning of the alphabet. A thin elastic band or one elastic band on the Italian dressing because it is next in line in the alphabet. And a thick "broccoli elastic" band or two elastic bands on the Ranch dressing because it is at the end of the alphabet. Or you could place the elastic band around your favourite salad dressing bottle. Of course, you need to have a pretty good memory to follow this technique!
  • If you choose to label food items with raised stickers that you can easily feel (e.g., cupboard bumpers or Velcro), place the label on the lid of the container. When you need to replace the empty jar, remove and wash the old lid with the raised marking. Now you can place the washed lid on the new jar. In this way, the new product is labelled with no extra work!
  • Place a brightly-coloured or textured hair scrunchie around a certain food container or a uniquely-shaped magnet on a metal jar lid to easily identify it by sight or touch.
  • Person using a PenFriend labelling device to read a medication bottleCreate braille, large-print, or raised-print labels using index cards and a black wide-tipped felt pen or puffy fabric paint. The index card can be affixed to the food item with an elastic band. When using this method for labelling, be sure to cut off the top right corner of the index card on an angle to aid in orientation of the index card before reading it. It can be frustrating if you are trying to read a braille, large-print, or raised-print label and you are holding the index card upside down. Transfer this index card label to the new food product when necessary. An audio labelling system can be produced using a PenFriend labelling device from Shop CNIB.
  • Place frequently used items at the front of a shelf so they are easy to find. Similarly, items you use more often should be placed on a shelf or in a drawer that is at a convenient level.
  • Do not buy more food or produce than you need in order to prevent spoilage or food becoming lost at the back of the fridge! Don't buy food in bulk simply because it is cheaper. It will cost you more in the long run if you are constantly throwing out food that has gone bad!
  • Be sure to record expiry dates for food items in a format of your choice. You could simply place a large-print label on the food item using a piece of masking tape or include the expiry date on your audio or braille label. If you only purchase the amount of food that is needed, you probably will not have to record expiry dates. For example, if you only purchase the dairy products that you will consume in one week, the expiry dates are irrelevant!
  • Keep leftovers on a separate shelf, being sure to place the newest item at the back so the oldest product is consumed first. You may prefer to place the leftovers in uniquely shaped containers or containers with a certain colour lid so they are easy to recognize.

    Inside of a fridge filled with brightly coloured plastic baskets containing small food items
  • If you have roommates, you may like to designate one shelf and/or drawer as your own. Or if space is limited, you may like to have a basket on one shelf that is strictly yours.
  • Simplify things by getting rid of food items you no longer use. Keep extra food products in the kitchen pantry until required. This is assuming the product does not need to be refrigerated!
  • If you have photophobia or light sensitivity, you may like to turn off the light in the refrigerator so you can see into the fridge better.
  • If you live with someone else, it is extremely important that they follow these same rules! If you have homemakers or other caregivers coming into your home, you may want to create signs in the fridge identifying where food items belong. For example, large, bold print on a piece of masking tape can remind the person where the margarine is stored.

If you would like to learn additional food storage tips, please contact your local Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada office. VOILÀ!

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