You just got home with this week’s haul from the market. You pack everything in the fridge to keep it fresh until you have a chance to prep. But wait: not all food needs to be refrigerated, and in some cases lower temps are harmful and cause food to go bad.
Spoiled food isn’t just a waste of money and time spent at the store. Food waste also squanders resources used to grow, transport, and store the food before it arrives at the market. Agriculture is responsible for 70% of fresh water used around the world, and land management practices associated with modern farming lead to soil degradation as well as water and air pollution.
One step we can take to minimize food waste is to store food where it keeps best, which is not always in the refrigerator.
Some foods will lose flavor, nutrients, and antioxidants with refrigeration.
- Fresh soft-leaf herbs. Treat freshly harvested herbs such as mint and basil like flowers by placing them out of direct sunlight with their stems submerged in water.
- Dried herbs and spices—keep them safe from heat as well.
- Watermelons lose antioxidants and nutrients in the fridge.
- Shallots lose flavor in the refrigerator; store in a cool dry place.
- Hot sauce and sriracha loose their kick, and their texture thickens, too.
Often, already viscous food will solidify in the fridge.
- Oils do not need to be refrigerated, and some, like olive oil and coconut oil, will harden in lower temperatures. An exception is nut oils, which should be stored in the refrigerator.
- Honey. This liquid sunshine will crystallize and harden in the fridge.
- Molasses hardens with refrigeration as well.
While not harmful, some foods form an unwanted texture in lower temps.
- Tomatoes turn mealy.
- Chocolate looses its smoothness and becomes grainy.
Other times refrigeration is harmful for food and causes decay.
- Winter squash deteriorates in low temperatures. However, summer squash and zucchini should be stored in the fridge.
- Cucumbers. Similarly, cucumbers decay at frigid temperatures.
- Papayas. Low temps damage papayas, so keep them on the counter.
- Dragon fruit belongs in the fruit bowl, too.
- Dry beans need to stay dry and the refrigerator is too humid an environment for them.
- Coffee beans will decay and be prone to mold-growth in the fridge.
- Onions need to be stored in a well-ventilated cool, dry place; they become mushy in the fridge.
- Garlic. Same.
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes. The cold converts their starches to sugars, which then produce acrylamide when they’re baked or fried. Store them in a cool, dry place—away from the onions and garlic, though, or they will start to sprout eyes.
If something is shelf-stable for years it can live in the pantry.
- Vinegar is used to preserve other foods and doesn’t need refrigeration.
- White rice stays good for years (but if at the end of it’s run it will last a little longer in the refrigerator).
Some fruits need to sit out to ripen, but can get over-ripe in no time. Eek out a few extra days of freshness with refrigeration.
- Avocados. Timing avocado ripeness is an art form. Leave them out to ripen, but if several soften up at the same time save them from spoiling with refrigeration.
- Stone fruits like peaches and plums can go from under-ripe to over-ripe in a day. Leave them out to ripen, and refrigerate if you can’t eat them right away.
- Bananas skins will darken with refrigeration, but the fruit inside will remain fine to eat for a day or so if you toss ripe bananas in the fridge. Alternately, you could freeze ripe banana pieces to use in smoothies and nice cream.
- Pears become juicy more quickly when left in the fruit bowl, but last a little longer with refrigeration once they ripen.
5 Items you should be refrigerating:
- Prepped produce. Once fruits and veggies are washed, peeled, and chopped they need to go in the fridge.
- Gluten-free flours spoil more quickly than wheat flour. One of the first tips our nutritionist gave us was to store gluten-free flours in the refrigerator.
- Nuts. While they have a long shelf life, they’ll last months longer in a lower temperature.
- Dried fruit. While drying is a form of food preservation, keeping dried fruit in the refrigerator will extend it’s shelf-life. However, an airtight container is key to prevent the fruit from drying out.
- Fresh corn dries out quickly and should be eaten the day of purchase. Leave on the husks and stack them in the fridge until it’s time to cook.