Fridge, Freezer or Pantry? Where to Keep 10 Common Foods

The great food storage debate
foods inside refrigerator

You’ve returned from the farmer’s market or grocery store with a haul of healthy food. Now you wonder, where do I store it all?

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The answer — butter on the counter, anyone? — isn’t always as simple as it seems. Registered dietitian Ariana Fiorita, RDN, LD, IFNCP, gives storage guidelines for some common foods.

  1. Butter
    Verdict: Fridge or Pantry
    Surprise! Butter doesn’t actually require refrigeration. It’s on the USDA’s list of “safe-to-eat foods” when not refrigerated. Unlike milk, butter is mostly fat and contains little water, which makes it less susceptible to bacteria growth. But butter’s flavor and smell will take a turn for the worse if left out for several days — especially if your kitchen is hot and humid. If you want butter that stays fresh longer, keep it in the fridge. Just remove it before use to soften.

  2. Cheese
    Verdict: Fridge or Freezer
    Cheese is best refrigerated in its own packaging. Soft cheeses may only last one to three weeks, while harder or aged cheeses will last significantly longer. Once you open it, wrap cheese tightly and store it in a drawer to avoid it picking up flavors from other foods. You can also use the freezer to extend the expiration date.

  3. Eggs
    Verdict: Fridge
    The U.S. is one of the few countries that refrigerates eggs, because of washing techniques and regulations. When stores refrigerate eggs, you need to do so at home, too. If you don’t, the eggs will start to “sweat,” which can lead to mold growth. The good news: Refrigeration can extend the shelf life of eggs.

  4. Meat
    Verdict: Fridge or Freezer
    According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, bacteria can grow in perishable foods within two hours unless you refrigerate them. Keep your meats in a drawer or on a low shelf to avoid juice leakage and the risk of contamination. If you want to save them for later use in the freezer, just be sure you thaw them properly when you’re ready. To avoid the risk of bacteria, use the refrigerator, cold water (use a leak-proof bag) or the microwave to thaw them rather than the countertop.

  5. Coffee
    Verdict: Pantry
    The folks at the National Coffee Association advise against keeping coffee beans in the fridge or freezer. Why? When coffee comes into contact with moisture (and it will in a fridge or freezer), it starts to lose its freshness and flavor. It’s best to store coffee in an air-tight container in a cool, dark, dry location.

  6. Ketchup and Mustard
    Verdict: Pantry or Fridge
    Have you ever noticed that your hometown diner keeps ketchup and mustard on the table next to the menus? That’s because both are acidic enough to prevent harmful bacteria growth. You can keep them on the counter or in the pantry, although some manufacturers do recommend refrigeration to maintain peak freshness. But you still need to pay attention to expiration dates.

  7. Hot Sauce
    Verdict: Some Pantry, Some Fridge
    A vinegar-based hot sauce will be fine left on the shelf until you’re finished using it —in fact, refrigerating it could diminish the flavor. Be careful with chili-based hot sauces, though. Depending on their ingredients, they may require refrigeration, and the bottle should be labeled as such.

  8. Jam
    Verdict: Pantry (unopened), Fridge (opened)
    Fruit jams can remain at room temperature for up to a year, typically, if unopened. Once you crack the seal, though, refrigerate them. To check if a jam is still safe to consume after storage, follow your nose: If it smells like alcohol or yeast, throw it away, because it’s no longer safe for consumption.

  9. Peanut Butter
    Verdict: Fridge or Pantry
    If you use a natural or homemade peanut butter (we hope you do!), refrigerate it after opening. On the other hand, processed peanut butters have preservatives that make them OK to store at room temperature for a few months. However, it’s recommended to avoid preservatives and buy only natural peanut butter (without hydrogenated oil) instead. If you don’t plan to use your peanut butter — any type — within three months, refrigerate it.

  10. Bread
    Verdict: Pantry or Freezer
    Refrigeration slows the growth of bacteria and mold, so you would think tossing your bread in the fridge is a good thing, right? In truth, chilling your bread makes it go stale faster. Keeping it at room temperature is your best bet. If you cannot eat bread quickly enough to avoid the growth of mold, put it in the freezer.

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