Do you know how to use the crisper drawers in your fridge? If not, you’re not alone: according to Mary Kay Bolger, senior product development manager of refrigeration at Whirlpool, “In the many years of research we’ve done, we’ve found over and over again that crisper drawers seem to be a mystery to the consumer in terms of how they work or how they should be set.” While crisper drawers might seem like the perfect place to store beer or odds-and-ends that don’t fit on refrigerator shelves, they're actually meant for fresh produce, and when used correctly, can extend the life of your fruits and vegetables. After consulting Bolger and our test kitchen, we set the record straight on how to get the most out of your crisper drawers.
How They Work
Crisper drawers are bins that offer a more humid environment than the rest of the refrigerator interior. Most are adjustable between high and low through a sliding humidity control setting that opens or closes a small vent in the drawer. Bolger says, “It’s pretty simple if you think about it this way: it's all about the airflow in and out of the drawer.” The high humidity setting closes the vent, shutting the air off and producing more humidity. Low humidity means that the vent is completely open and air can move freely. If your drawers don’t have any controls, they are simply high-humidity crispers. If you have two crisper drawers, it’s best to separate them into high and low humidity so you can store all kinds of produce.
What to Store Where
This drawer should contain thin-skinned or leafy vegetables that are prone to wilting or losing moisture quickly, such as asparagus, fresh herbs, and greens. Deputy food editor Greg Lofts says, “I wash, spin dry, and wrap lettuce in clean kitchen towels as soon as I get home and store them in the crisper drawer. Lettuces stay crisp and fresh much longer that way than if you just leave them in the clamshell container or plastic bag. Plus, they’re clean, dry, and ready to eat whenever I want a salad.”
Many fruits, from apples and pears to stone fruit and melons, give off high levels of a gas called ethylene that speeds up the ripening process. It not only can cause the fruits themselves to overripen, but can also damage other produce that is sensitive to ethylene. The open vent in the low humidity setting allows the gas to escape, which prevents the fruits from descending into the rotten stage too quickly. Isolating these fruits in the low-humidity bin also keeps them from spoiling the ethylene-sensitive fruits and vegetables in the high-humidity bin. If you don’t have humidity controls, it’s still a good idea to separate your fruits and vegetables based on ethylene production. If you only have one crisper drawer, store the ethylene-emitting fruits somewhere else in the fridge, and make sure your bin has a tight seal.
Once you have your produce separated, Bolger recommends “organizing your drawers from front to back. Placing items that have a shorter shelf life in front will ensure that you see them first and use them before they spoil.” Lastly, if you don’t have enough produce to fill two bins, Lofts has another suggestion: "Use one of your crisper drawers for raw meat, fish, and poultry. The drawer is at the bottom of the fridge, so it’s particularly cold and there’s no chance of cross contamination.”