To fridge or not to fridge? Extend the life of your groceries

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Most food labels will let you know if you should refrigerate that item or not, but what about produce? Or what if you could make an ingredient last twice or even three times longer if you simply stored it in the fridge? Here’s a list of items that should either always be kept in the refrigerator or that once opened, if refrigerated, can extend the life and freshness of it, saving you both waste and money.

APPLES – If you’re going to eat apples within the week, it’s perfectly fine to leave them on the counter. But to extend their life, it’s best to keep them in the refrigerator. FreshDirect suggests you refrigerate them immediately after bringing them home from the store. In fact, if stored between 30 and 35 degrees in a humid environment, apples can last up to 4 months. An easy way to create a humid environment is to lay a damp cloth over the apples after you’ve put them in the fridge crisper. And if you can keep the apples in a separate area, it will keep your other produce from ripening too soon since apples give off ethylene gas, which makes surrounding fruits and veggies ripen more quickly.

AVOCADO – Ever toss an avocado in the trash because it went bad before you used it? I swear, it seems like no matter how well I plan our meals, our avocados can go from becoming ripe to spoiled overnight and I end up throwing at least one blackened, mushy one out. I never even thought of putting them in the fridge. But yes, you can refrigerate those avocados once they are ripe, which will slow the ripening process and keep your avocados good for up to a week.

BANANAS – Bananas are another thing you can refrigerate once ripened in order to extend their life. The peel will turn dark brown but the banana itself will still taste great. Don’t put unripe bananas in the fridge though because then they won’t ripen.

You can see the difference in color with these two bananas. They were both bought at the same time and they were both already ripe. The darker banana was kept in the fridge while the other one was left on the counter.

You can see that the refrigerated banana actually stayed fresher.

BUTTER – Oh the debate to fridge or not to fridge butter. I know people who keep butter on the counter for weeks, or until the stick is gone, while others would never keep the butter out, even if just for overnight. The USDA recommends refrigerating butter if you’re not using it within 1 to 2 days. The ideal recommendation is to keep the bulk of the butter in the fridge and just the amounts you’ll be using out for a couple of days. But those are guidelines and there are those (research groups, chefs, websites, and dairy groups among other studies) who that say it’s okay to keep butter in an airtight container, like a crock, at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. If temperatures are at 79 degrees or above though, it’s always best to keep it in the fridge.

*The salt in salted butter makes it less susceptible to bacterial growth while unsalted butter should always be refrigerated.

CITRUS FRUITS – Citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges don’t necessarily need to be refrigerated but they will keep up to 4 times longer if they are. Bring to room temperature before using, which will yield more juice.

CORN ON THE COB – If you’re not eating that fresh corn on the cob the day you buy it, it should be refrigerated. At room temperature, after only 6 hours, the sugar content actually decreases by 40%, which means it loses most of the flavor, quality, and sweetness.

DRIED FRUITS – Dried fruits contain less moisture than fresh fruit which means it won’t spoil as quickly if not refrigerated but for maximum freshness, put it in the fridge after opening. Refrigeration storage can keep dried fruits good for up to 6 months.

EGGS – In the United States, eggs should always be kept in the refrigerator. American and European eggs are processed differently which is why Europeans don’t have to fridge their eggs. The American Egg Board recommends storing in temperatures of 40 degrees or below, which prevents Salmonella and other bacteria from growing. Refrigeration can also increase an egg’s shelf life from 21 days to up to 5 weeks.

Explained simply, eggs in the United States go through a wash process to reduce the chances of salmonella contamination. But the wash process washes away the cuticle, which is what helps keep chemicals and bacteria out of the egg. In other parts of the world, like Europe, the washing process is skipped.

*Fresh eggs don’t have to be refrigerated as long as the cuticle is intact.

GRAPES – Grapes should be refrigerated after purchasing and rinsed with cool water right before using.

HERBS – There are hard herbs and soft herbs. Hard herbs like rosemary, marjoram, oregano, and thyme have woody stems and need to be kept in the fridge. Wrap them in damp paper towel and then loosely wrap in plastic before storing in the crisper.

Soft herbs like cilantro, parsley, and tarragon, which have soft, tender leaves, should be stored in the refrigerator too. To store, snip the base of stems off and then put in a glass of fresh water. Loosely cover with a plastic bag and store in the fridge. Change the water every day or so if it becomes cloudy.

*Basil is a soft herb but should be kept at room temperature. Snip the base of stems, place in a glass of fresh water, loosely cover with plastic and keep on the counter. Change water as needed.

KETCHUP – While you don’t have to refrigerate regular ketchup if you don’t use it very often, it would be best to keep it stored in the fridge to inhibit bacterial growth. Organic ketchup and other varieties that are made without preservatives though should always be stored in the fridge.

MAPLE SYRUP – Pure maple syrup should always be kept in the refrigerator. I know some people who keep it at room temperature in very small batches who use it on a regular basis, which should be okay. But because there are no preservatives in pure maple syrup, it can develop mold on the surface so use quickly or keep in the fridge once opened.

MUSTARDS – There aren’t any ingredients in mustard that will spoil so you don’t have to keep it in the refrigerator. But for “specialty” mustards like horseradish or Dijon, refrigeration will help them keep their distinct flavors and taste better, according to French’s.

NUTS – Nuts don’t have to be refrigerated but boy you sure can extend their freshness by doing so. At room temperature, nuts are good for about 1 to 4 months. The oils in nuts can make them become rancid so if you’re not using fairly soon, stick them in the fridge where they will be good for up to a year. And if you store them in the freezer, they will last even longer.

NUT BUTTERS – Nut butters don’t have to be refrigerated if kept in a cool, dry space and used within 3 months of opening. BUT, if they don’t contain any preservatives or stabilizers, like organic nut butters, they can become rancid if left out for an extended period of time or if it’s exposed to warm temps. It’s much harder to spread refrigerated nut butters so just pull out of the fridge about an hour before using.

*The oils will separate when stored at room temperature, which is totally okay…just stir it up and then spread.

NUT FLOURS & ALTERNATIVE FLOURS – Flours like almond, hazelnut, coconut, wheat germ, rice bran, and even whole-wheat have higher levels of oils which makes them more likely to oxidize and become rancid. For best results, store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months or in the freezer for up to 12 months.

OILS – Cooking oils don’t need to be refrigerated but if you buy them in bulk, you might consider keeping the larger bulk bottle in the fridge and keep a smaller bottle in the cabinet. Extended exposure to light, air and heat can make oils go bad faster. If you do refrigerate oils, they will probably develop a cloudy appearance which is totally fine. Just bring to room temperature.

SOY SAUCE – Soy sauce, along with fish and hot sauces, won’t go bad if you don’t refrigerate them but to maintain optimum freshness and flavor, it’s best to do so.

STONE FRUITS – Stone fruits like peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines and cherries can be stored at room temperature but once ripened, stick in the fridge to extend their life by a week. (If the stone fruit you buy is already ripe, go ahead and stick them in the fridge when you get home.)

TORTILLAS – According to Mission, tortillas will last at ambient temperature until the date printed on the package. If they are placed in the refrigerator until they are ready to be used, they will last longer.

WINE (That’s Been Opened) – Wine Enthusiast suggests you recork and refrigerate both leftover white and red wines. The cool temperature will slow down the oxidation process and keep your wine fresh for around 5 days.

*Red wine temperature should be brought up to about 60 to 70 degrees once you’ve pulled it from the fridge, before serving.


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