Tips for Organizing Your Walk-In Cooler

Whether you just got a walk-in cooler or are curious if it’s time to upgrade, having the best organizational strategy will increase your product’s longevity. Here, we’ve compiled the best advice on where to store specific items along with some additional organizing tips on general walk-in use.

1. Organizing Tips by Product

Once you set up your organization system for your walk-in cooler, stick with it! Always store everything in the same spot. Not only will consistency help your staff prioritize efficiency, but it will also reduce the risk of contamination. Obviously, you should also have a routine cleaning schedule, but storing similar items in a consistent place will keep everything to health code standards in between cleanings. That being said, there are certain spots that make the most sense for specific items. In general, organize your product from top shelf to bottom shelf in order of contamination risk. When planning your walk-in cooler organization, keep the following tips in mind.

Top Shelf: Fruits and Veggies

Since fruits and vegetables are most susceptible to contamination, wilting, and rot, the top shelf of the walk-in is the best place for them. Additionally, cooler fans can dry out produce and cause faster wilting. It is best practice to store produce as far away from fans as possible. Often, both the refrigeration unit and the evaporator cell will have fans, so be sure to have your produce shelf on the opposite side from the cooler and cell. Units with fans are often in the center and back of the walk-in, so storing produce in the front or side of the cooler will prolong its shelf life.

Next up: Prepared Foods

Store your prepared items either on the shelf below your produce or on the unoccupied top shelf space. Similar to the produce, you want to keep these ready-to-eat items free from contamination. Keeping them high on the shelves will reduce the risk of cross-contamination. 

In Between: Dairy Products

Dairy products should be stored above the meats but below your produce and prepared food. Dairy generally has a longer shelf life than produce and meats because they are often fermented or made with pasteurized milk. However, they can still spoil. Additionally, many people suffer from lactose intolerance. While some folks suffer through the discomfort or have minimal symptoms, the National Institute of Health estimates that nearly 70% of the world’s population has trouble digesting lactose products. With that in mind, reduce the chance of cross-contamination by storing dairy products separately. 

Bottom Shelf: Meats

Always store meat products on the bottom shelf of the walk-in cooler. This especially goes for raw meats, but even cured meats are best kept low. While your bottom shelf should still be at least six inches off the ground, you want to eliminate the risk of the raw meat contaminating any other product. Proper containers offer another valuable tip for meat products; always storing meats in containers will similarly help prevent drip and cross-contamination. 


When moving meat from the freezer to the cooler to thaw, always place it into a container as the frozen meat will often release some liquid when thawing. If you have enough meat products to warrant two shelves, store thawing meats below raw meats. In general, be very cautious with raw meat. Even if its projected shelf life might be longer, try to use it within one or two days of thawing or storing it in the cooler.

2. Keep the Air Flowing

Next up on our list of walk-in cooler organization tips is airflow. The key to a well-functioning refrigeration system is space. Though it may be tempting to cram as much product onto each shelf as possible, this will have undesirable effects. Instead of saving you money and space, you will potentially have a broken refrigeration system and spoiled food on your hands. Allowing a couple of inches of space between items (and between the shelves and the wall) will allow the air to flow evenly over the products’ surfaces keeping everything completely chilled. Additionally, the refrigeration unit won’t have to work so hard! Storing fewer items with space between them will help the product last longer.

3. Organizing Tips for Easy Cleaning

Shelving is a necessity for proper organization in any sort of walk-in. Not only will it help keep your products organized, but it will help keep the cleanliness in check. Proper shelves also help abide with a very important rule of walk-in cooler organization: never store food directly on the floor. Even in boxes, food on the floor can both attract pests and make cleaning more difficult. In general, keep the lowest shelf six inches off the ground. 

4. Organizing Tips for Labeling

Developing a good labeling system will help with any walk-in cooler’s organization. All perishables should always have a detailed label. In a walk-in cooler, however, this information is critical. Because your refrigerated items are among the most perishable, it’s not worth taking a risk with mislabeled food. On each label, write all the relevant dates. This could include the date of opening, date of preparation, date of purchase, etc… Also, make sure all your staff members are trained to decipher the labels easily. This will help everything stay efficient and streamlined while not risking any health code violations. 

Additionally, always follow the “First In, First Out” (FIFO) rule. That means organizing products in the order of expiration dates with the newest at the back. 

Image by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash.

Maximize Your Space With Organizing Tips

For time, space, and money, efficiency is key to your business. You want your walk-in cooler to reflect that. Arctic custom walk-ins can design a cooler to fit the specific needs of your space. Once you have the cooler perfectly settled in, you can further maximize your space with these organizational tips. For any more advice on setting up your walk-in cooler, reach out to the experts at Arctic Walk-Ins!