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How To Properly Use Your Refrigerator's Crisper Drawer

Jun 05, 2023

Using this compartment correctly can keep your produce fresher for longer.

Stacey Lastoe is a former senior editor for CNN Travel with an Emmy for her work. Now a freelancer, her work can be found in Allrecipes, Refinery29, American Way, The Kitchn, Fodor's, and Wine Enthusiast. Stacey lives with her husband and dog in New York.

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If space is an issue, you may sometimes find yourself stocked cans of soda, beer, or even bottles of wine in the crisper drawer, but then where does that leave your produce?

Your refrigerator's crisper drawer exists for a reason, and knowing how to use it will help you keep fresh fruits and vegetables around longer and cut down on unnecessary food waste.

Often just called a crisper, a crisper drawer is typically a literal drawer in your fridge that is meant to make produce last longer. This special compartment has a humidity level that's different from the rest of the fridge, and it's this humidity (lower or higher, depending on the item) that helps maintain fruits’ and vegetables’ freshness long after you bring them home from the grocery store, though some produce items fare best when left out of the fridge.

Most refrigerators actually have two side-by-side crisper drawers: one for fruits and one for vegetables. The humidity is adjusted according to the food items being stored. However, in fridges with only one drawer, the default setting is usually high humidity.

Some crisper drawers can be adjusted to prevent the loss of moisture from produce to stop it from wilting or turning quickly. Certain fridges have crispers that allow for the escape of ethylene gas which, when released by some fruits, causes them to rot more quickly.

The crisper drawer should be reserved for fresh produce. Apples, pears, mangoes, and cantaloupes belong in a drawer that has been set to low humidity. These fruits produce ethylene gas which leads to rotting if it doesn't have the chance to escape. Placing your fresh bag of farmers market apples on the same shelf as your cold cuts and cheese means the ethylene gas emitted has nowhere to go and will cause the fruit to have a very short shelf life.

Food items that thrive in high humidity zones include leafy greens such as spinach, arugula, red and green leaf lettuce, swiss chard, bok choy, and fresh green herbs.

But it's not just vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and green beans that do well in a high humidity crisper drawer, but also strawberries, watermelons, and unripe bananas.

By placing the appropriate items in the distinct low and high humidity drawers or compartments, you will prolong their shelf life and avoid food waste. Most drawers contain humidity vents that can be adjusted based on how humid you want the drawer to be—remember: High humidity for thin-skinned vegetables and certain fruits that will suffer from other fruits' ethylene gas emissions.

If your fridge has these two compartments, decide which one will be the high humidity drawer and which will be the low. This way, you can avoid making the mistake of placing the wrong items in the drawers.

When you turn the humidity up in the drawer you’re designating as high humidity, typically a window closes completely to allow the produce to thrive in their preferred high humidity environment.

Adjusting the other drawer to lower its humidity opens a window in the drawer. This allows the ethylene gas to escape and gives the fruit a chance for a longer, fresher shelf life.

The most important thing to remember is what items are sensitive to ethylene. Second to that is how you stock the drawers themselves. Besides taking care to put the appropriate items in their respective low and high humidity drawers, be careful not to overcrowd or overstuff the drawers. A crisper drawer jam packed with produce can result in blocked vents and a general lack of airflow.

But the drawers are also at their peak performance when they’re about two-thirds full, so try not to let them get too bare if you can.

Frozen fruits or vegetables are a sign that your fridge's overall temperature is too low, and you should adjust this setting to ensure the freshness of your produce.