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When to Refrigerate

Having a cluttered fridge has always been a problem in my family. With two growing kids who like to graze at all hours, lots of food has always been available. But what happens when the refrigerator looks like it’s about to burst? After doing some research, we discovered that some foods shouldn’t be refrigerated at all and can save us refrigerator space, some foods don’t have to be refrigerated but can be, and that some foods must be placed in the fridge as soon as possible.

Foods you shouldn’t refrigerate:


Potatoes: Refrigeration affects their flavor, so storing them in a dark place and/or in paper bags helps them keep their flavor for about three weeks. Don’t use plastic bags, as they trap moisture and speed up decay.

Tomatoes: Tomatoes can last for three days out on the counter, out of plastic bags. They can get mealy in fridges and lose their flavor.

Honey: Honey is one of those items with an indefinite shelf life, being one of the earliest preservatives known. When you refrigerate honey, it crystallizes, making it harder to use and spread, so just keep it in a cupboard.

Onions: Onions, like potatoes, like to be kept in a dark place–but away from potatoes. Potatoes emit gases and moisture that cause onions to rot. Keep them in the mesh bag they usually come in.

Hot sauce: Vinegar-based hot sauces can be safely stored in the pantry for months. The cold of refrigeration tends to weaken the flavor and change the sauce’s consistency.

Garlic: Garlic can last up to two months in your pantry. Keep it loose so air can move through it.

Coffee: When you put coffee in the fridge or freezer, the condensation affects the flavor of both grounds and beans. Coffee can last just fine in an airtight container in the cupboard.

Winter squashes: Squashes, such as acorn, spaghetti squash, butternut, and delicate, can last for a month or so out of the fridge and in the pantry.

Avocados: Avocados are amazing when they’re ripe, but they don’t like to ripen in cold conditions. Leave it out on the counter and check every couple of days to see if it’s ripe.

Melons: Uncut melon is best kept out on the counter to ripen at room temperature. However, when you do cut your melon open, it’s best to cut it up into bite-size pieces, which then should be refrigerated.

Spices: Spices can be kept in the cabinet for years. Spices have been used for centuries without needing refrigeration. The moist environment in the refrigerator damages the spices, so just keep them in your spice drawer, and your food will stay flavorful.

Condiments: Despite the “Refrigerate after Opening” labels, your condiments, such as ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, barbeque sauce, soy sauce, and jam, don’t have to be refrigerated. As long as a clean knife is always used to avoid contamination, then most products will be just fine without refrigeration. Depending on what kind of jam it is, i.e. if it is super processed, you don’t have to refrigerate it. If your aunt makes jam and gives you some in a jar, it’s probably better to put that in the fridge.

Peanut butter: Peanut butter can fall under the condiments category. It can be kept in the cabinet even after it’s been opened if it’s the commercially processed kind. All-natural peanut butter has to be refrigerated, as the peanut oil can rise and separate, causing the whole jar to go rancid. But if it’s a brand like JIF or Skippy, keep it in the cabinet to save space on your fridge door.

Foods you can refrigerate but don’t need to:


Bread: Refrigerated bread dries out really fast, making it even more inedible than if it’s just left out on the counter. Leave what you’d eat in four days out on the counter and freeze the rest for later.

Baked goods: Baked goods act the way bread does. Store them in a covered container outside of the fridge.  They may not last very long, but they won’t become as stale as fast.

Bananas: Bananas ripen better in room temperature. When placed in the fridge, the ripening process slows down. The refrigeration process quickly turns the peel brown while the inside stays unspoiled.

Oils: Nut oils should be refrigerated, but all other types don’t have to be. They harden in the fridge, and while refrigeration does no lasting damage, it does force you to wait for the oils to warm up to taste right or pour properly.

Apples: Apples can be refrigerated, but it’s not necessary. Refrigeration reduces the amount of antioxidants in the fruit’s skin and makes the apples mushy. Apples can keep for a week outside of the fridge, so if you’re going to eat them soon, don’t bother to refrigerate them.

Butter: Some people keep butter out, and it keeps just fine, especially when they use a French butter dish. The USDA doesn’t advise the use of those, but they do work well. However, if you are concerned about contamination when people spread butter on their toast and use the same knife, better just put the butter in the fridge.

Salad dressing: Salad dressing, since it is oil-based, can survive just fine outside of the refrigerator. Some people prefer cold salad dressing, and that’s fine too.


Foods you should always refrigerate:


Meat: Raw meat should always be refrigerated or else it will go rancid.

Dairy products: Milk and cheese (and sometime butter) need to be kept in the refrigerator. There aren’t enough natural preservatives to keep it from spoiling out in room temperature.

Eggs: Some say that organic eggs can be left out for a few days, with the shells still intact. However, if you’re not sure where your eggs are coming from, it’s best to just refrigerate them.


This is just a small list of foods that do or don’t need the cold, moist conditions the refrigerator offers. Here’s a good list of fruits and veggies and their refrigeration needs. Some fruits and vegetables don’t need the cold or moist environment at first, but to keep for a longer time span, it’s better to place them in the fridge. Some items are a personal preference – my family likes to keep maple syrup in the fridge and jam in the cupboard. Use your best judgment for things like that.

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