No one wants spoiled food. It’s disconcerting to crack an egg open only to be hit with rot’s signature pungent, foul odor. Even a humble slice of toast won’t stand for butter that’s a few days past its prime.
Here’s the thing: While nobody wants to deal with food gone bad, much debate surrounds how to properly store things like eggs, butter, and fruit. You’re most likely either Team Leave-It-Out-On-The-Counter or you put things in the refrigerator faster than you can say the word “refrigerator.” I’ve found there’s not a whole lot of lingering in between the extremes when this topic comes up in conversation. The truth, though, is refrigeration keeps produce at its peak and bacteria at bay. Conversely, it can also harm foods that aren’t meant to be exposed to cold temperatures. Here are 11 refrigeration myths and questions, addressed:
1.) Not refrigerating eggs is fine.
While those in the U.K. and numerous other European countries might leave their eggs out on the counter–if you live in the U.S., you should always refrigerate your eggs. Here’s why: In the U.S., the Huffington Post says, commercial eggs are power-washed prior to making their way to grocery stores. This removes any harmful bacteria, like salmonella, on the egg’s surface. However, this cleansing also strips the egg of its natural protective coating—called the cuticle—which makes the shell weaker and more susceptible to contamination. Refrigeration prevents these more porous eggs from soaking up a load of bacteria, increasing their shelf life from 21 days to up to 5 weeks. In the U.K., eggs aren’t power-washed, so they keep their protective coating. Instead, hens are vaccinated to prevent salmonella.
2.) Cool foods to room temperature before putting them in the fridge.
No, you shouldn’t put piping hot foods in the fridge, as this can cause the temperature of the fridge to raise (anything warmer than 40 degrees and bacteria start growing with a vengeance). However, allowing foods to cool to room temperature means they’re going to be sitting out for a while, which can also lead to bacterial growth. The solution: using shallow containers and cold water or an ice bath to cool hot foods fast pre-refrigeration.
3.) Alcohol should live in the cabinet.
A lot of booze contains enough alcohol or sugar to preserve its flavor at room temperature, however those that are lower in alcohol content or wine-based will oxidize. Simply put, this means once the bottle is open, the alcohol reacts with oxygen, dulling its flavor over time. Cold temperatures slow oxidation down. Here’s a short list of what deserves a spot in your fridge after opening: wine (red, too), fortified wines (like vermouth, sherry, port, Marsala, and Madeira), beer (duh), and wine-based aperitifs (like Campari and Lillet).
4.) Stone fruits are pretty, so let’s leave them out on the counter.
Unless you like eating mush, you’ll want to refrigerate stone fruits once they ripen, which will stop them from becoming any softer too soon. In case you’re not sure, stone fruits include peaches, apricots, cherries, nectarines, and plums.
5.) Nuts are OK in the pantry.
If you have nuts you’re not planning on using in the near future, stash them in the fridge (or better yet, the freezer). Nuts contain oils that go rancid when exposed to warmth–however, they’ll last for a year or more in the refrigerator, and up to 2 years in the freezer.
6.) Nut oils can go on the shelf.
Like the stuff they’re made of (see above), nut oils can also turn rancid quickly once opened—and if you ever had a rancid nut, you know it doesn’t, well… taste good. Play it safe and keep toasted sesame, walnut, hazelnut, pumpkin seed oils, etc. in the fridge. While these may thicken up a bit when cold, they’ll become less viscous quickly at room temperature. Just pull them out a few minutes before you plan to cook.
7.) Whole-grain flours belong in the pantry just like their all-purpose friends.
Whole grain flours—like whole-wheat, quinoa, einkorn, and barley—contain some or all of the bran and germ, which have oils and nutrients prone to spoiling and going rancid quickly. This gives these flours a shelf life of just a few months, The Kitchn says. Rather than stash them at room temp, keep whole-grain flours in airtight containers in the freezer or fridge. Just make sure to set the flour out and allow it warm a bit before using for baking (ice cold flour will throw your cook time off).
8.) Butter is all-good left out on the counter.
This is true, but only for a certain period of time—and only for salted butter. Because salted butter is lower in water, primarily composed of fat, contains quite a bit of added salt, and is made from pasteurized milk, it won’t spoil fast. Despite what the FDA, USDA, and commercial butter companies tell you, salted butter (leave unsalted in the fridge), can be kept out at room temperature for up to a week before going rancid. And if you have a butter crock or keeper, the airtight seal of water held inside is enough to keep butter’s freshness and flavor intact for about two weeks.
9.) You can save excess bread in the fridge.
Unless you want your bread to dry out real fast, don’t do this. Instead, eat what you want within a couple of days and freeze the rest. If the loaf isn’t already sliced, do so first. That way you can take individual pieces and not have to battle with a frozen-solid block of bread.
10.) Potatoes are produce, so put them in the crisper.
It might be “potayto, potahto,” but however you say it, don’t put these in the fridge. Doing so harms their flavor. The fridge is too chilly an environment for starchy potatoes, causing their starches to turn to sugar, their flesh to darken, and their flavor to take on an odd sweetness when cooked. Instead, Real Simple suggests storing them in a paper bag in the pantry for up to three weeks. Plastic bags trap moisture, promoting decay–so avoid those if you can.
11.) Coffee stays fresher in the fridge.
The way to ensure fresh coffee is to buy the beans freshly roasted and often. The National Coffee Association suggests storing beans an airtight container at room temperature in a dark, cool spot away from the oven or sun. Coffee absorbs moisture, scents, and tastes from its surrounding environment, so it is apt to pickup unwanted flavors and/or suffer freezer burn when stored in the fridge or freezer. If you do want to refrigerate or freeze your beans for later use, make sure they’re in an airtight (and that’s truly airtight) container.