Actually, it’s anything but. Designing a fridge for the modern age is a careful balancing act, one that juggles space constraints, technological necessity and hygiene considerations, and a solution that ultimately allows everyone to stack their shelves the way they want to. After all, ‘our fridges say a lot about us,’ says Laurent Giraud, Product Marketing Manager, Health and Environment at Sharp Europe.
Before fan cooling the coolest section was the bottom and the back
There’s a science to it in other words and one we’ve all learned over years and decades, whether we realise or not. The top shelf has always been considered the warmest part of the fridge, making it ideal for packaged foods such as yoghurts, cheese and sauces; the middle shelf is ideal for cooked meats and sealed leftovers; the door is the most ambient section of the fridge compartment as it is the most exposed when opening and closing the door ergo it’s most suitable for eggs and fruit juice.
It’s a science that’s evolved over time, too. The reason we instinctively store vegetables at the bottom? Fridges weren’t always uniformly chilled. Anything at the top would be warmer as hot air rises – ditto for the areas nearer the door.
“In basic terms, cool air drops and hot air rises so before the introduction of fan cooling the coolest section was the bottom and the back,” explains Sharp Senior Product Manager, Morag Zuk. “As a result more perishable foods – fruit and vegetables – were best stored in this section.”
That led to its own challenges. The trays at the bottom? They’re to keep humidity constant. The salad crisper was developed to ensure that these products were kept at optimum humidity.
Vegetables either emit ethylene gas or are sensitive to gas. Keep the humidity low and gases are minimised so the foods last longer. (Even then, some leaves such as spinach wilt if they are not stored in more humid conditions. It’s best to have separate compartments for storage of different types of vegetables, an option found in Sharp’s SJFS810 and 820 series models).
Sharp has managed to solve both challenges – constant temperature and the correct humidity – in one fell swoop with the introduction of its latest four door fridge, the SJ-FS810VBK, which uses the company’s Plasmacluster ion generator tech to restrict the growth of bacteria and moisture, and hybrid cooling, which helps fruit and vegetables keep their appearance and taste for longer.
In northern Europe…there is a demand for larger compartments
It’s not just a question of space however: when it comes to stacking your fridge there’s the issue of hygiene to consider. Raw meat should always be kept beneath everything else, to avoid germs dripping down.
“It’s important that you store food in the correct place in your fridge to prevent germs from raw foods contaminating cooked and ready-to-eat foods,” a Food Standards Agency spokesperson tells Humans Invent. “It is important to remember to store raw meat, poultry and fish in sealed containers on the bottom shelf of the fridge.”
“This will stop them from touching or dripping onto other food and prevent the spread of harmful germs. Ready-to-eat food such as dairy products, cooked meats, leftovers and other packaged foods should all be kept covered on shelves above raw meat and poultry.”
Follow those rules and you’ve got the perfect fridge, right? For one nation, perhaps. What we generally put in the fridge changes dramatically by country.
Sharp’s latest survey on what Europeans keep in their fridges turned up some surprising results. For instance, Brits keep less in the fridge than those on the continent – and are far more likely to keep hummus in the fridge than their counterparts across the channel (41%).
Spaniards meanwhile have the most organised fridges – 42% say they have a place for everything, compared to only a quarter of Brits and Germans – and are the most likely to keep meats in it (Pork, 66%, cooked ham, turkey and beef, 68% percent and chicken, 88%). Oh and incidentally, the most popular cheese to store in the fridge across Europe? Camembert.
How people stack their fridges doesn’t just vary by what they put in it though – when they stack it matters too. In fact, that’s one of the reasons we just assume the fridge goes on the top and the freezer on the bottom.
“In northern Europe where the population traditionally does one large shop a week in a supermarket there is a demand for larger compartments,” says Zuk. “As this is the section that is most used it made sense to have everyday items at eye level and so the top fridge bottom freezer configuration became the market standard.”
“In southern Europe fridge freezers tend to be smaller and the freezer compartment is in the top section. Buying habits here tend to lean towards everyday purchases of key items from daily markets.”
And then there’s the Japanese, who prefer a warm box in the middle of theirs. Sharp developed the Hottoko compartment for the Japanese consumer: it can be used to defrost items from the freezer or help to cool down hot items before storage. It’s perfectly safe of course, but it’s not clear whether European customers will take to the concept. “The jury’s still out on that one”, says Zuk.
So, a balancing act, we think you’ll agree. Building a fridge to stack means solving an equation that’s always in flux, but it’s one Sharp is always evolving the answer to, looking at what we put in it, where, and when. Perhaps the most surprising finding in the survey was that not only do more than a quarter of Europeans keep medicine in the fridge, six percent store glue with their food and one percent even store paint and batteries.
“It’s unlikely that we’ll include a glue drawer in our next model,” jokes Giraud. “But you never know.”
To read the full survey by Sharp click here