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Just because something fits in the fridge, doesn’t mean it should. (Case in point: Keep your jeans out of the freezer.) Sure, there are drawers designed to keep foods like meat and cheese especially cold, and crispers to help humidity-loving produce last a while, but the refrigerator shouldn’t be the default storage space in your kitchen.
In fact, thanks to humidity, excess moisture, and odor absorption, your refrigerator could actually be spoiling your food—even if you’re keeping it at the ideal temperature for food safety.
So what shouldn’t you refrigerate? We rounded up a list of foods to keep in the pantry or on the counter. Some can be ruined by the cold, and some just taste better at room temp. Either way, assessing your food storage can help free up precious refrigerator shelf space for the things that really need to chill.
Foods that should never be refrigerated
Well, maybe "never" is a bit too strong—the following foods can go in the fridge sometimes. But they are the foods that will fare the worst in your refrigerator.
Refrigeration causes the starch in potatoes to turn to sugar, and while this might sound like a good thing, it gives them the wrong flavor. The skins will also darken prematurely while cooking, making them look less appetizing. Instead, store them in a cool, dry place, like a pantry or cabinet.
2. Sweet potatoes
Just like potatoes, sweet potatoes should also be kept out of the fridge and stored in a cool, dry place. Refrigerated sweet potatoes can become too dense in the middle, making them difficult to cut and cook.
Here's a weird one. You don't have to refrigerate onions, but you do need to keep them physically separated from the potatoes. Spuds emit moisture and gases that will make your onions rot. Your best bet is to keep onions in the mesh bag they came in—they like air circulation—when you store them in a cool, dark place, like a pantry, garage, or basement.
Again, air circulation is key. Garlic bulbs will keep for two months without refrigeration, and if you keep them out of the damp air of the fridge and in a cool, dark place, you'll avoid making all your other nearby produce smell like garlic. Some even say that refrigeration will make garlic sprout prematurely.
Is there anything more delicious and healthy than a ripe avocado? Avocados won't ripen in cold conditions, so unless you need them to keep for a while, you should let yours live outside the refrigerator until they're ready to eat. A bowl on the counter is a great, stylish choice. There's popular thinking suggesting the presence of the pit prevents browning, so if you only use half of an avocado, be sure to reserve the side with the pit.
Cold breaks down the cell walls in tomato flesh and causes them to become mushy and mealy. For better results, store them at room temperature and keep them out of direct sunlight, which can ripen them early and unevenly.
Allow bananas to ripen at room temperature, and use your refrigerator when you want to slow the ripening process. Just be aware that refrigeration also happens to turn banana peels brown (though the interior is still unspoiled). It’s worth noting, however, that frozen bananas make a great ice cream replacement.
Fresh melon—uncut, we should specify—is best stored on the kitchen counter where it can properly ripen and sweeten. Only after you cut up your cantaloupe or watermelon into bite-sized bits should the flesh be refrigerated (but never frozen).
8. Stone fruits
Peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums, cherries, and the like should be ripened at room temperature, stem-end down. Once the fruits start softening slightly to the touch and begin to smell sweet, move them to the refrigerator, where the shelf life can be three to five days.
Bread is a popular fridge and freezer item for many people, but the efforts to stave off mold result in having to gnaw at a loaf that’s tough and less tasty. First, store your bread in a dry, airtight bag or container, and try to eat it before it gets to the point where you think it may go bad. If that’s not possible, freezing is a better option because it preserves the texture. Of course, then you have to deal with defrosting it. And who has the time to microwave a slice of bread for breakfast when they're rushing to catch a train?
10. Pastries and cakes
It's the same story with sweets like pastries, cookies, and cakes. It’s true that they may not last as long covered outside the fridge as inside, but refrigeration causes baked goods to go stale faster. Keep your cannolis on the countertop where they belong.
11. Hot sauce
Not all hot sauces are created equal, but if it's a vinegar-based hot sauce like Tabasco, you can almost always safely store it in the pantry for months on end. Cold weakens the flavor and changes the viscosity of the sauce, affecting the pour.
The humid environment of a refrigerator is detrimental to the flavor of spices, and since most can be safely stored for years without refrigeration, there's no benefit to cold storage at all. Load up a spice rack in your pantry or cabinet instead.
Honey is one of the world's earliest preservatives thanks to its composition of acidity, hydrogen peroxide, and lack of water, so you can keep it in your cupboard. It has a practically indefinite shelf life, and we've heard tales of archaeologists uncovering ancient Egyptian tombs with edible honey inside. Don't refrigerate honey. It'll crystallize, and you'll have to squeeze that teddy bear even harder to get it out.
14. Peanut butter
All-natural peanut butter does have to be refrigerated, because the peanut oil can rise, separate from the mash, and go rancid. Commercially processed peanut butter, on the other hand (like JIF and Skippy), can be stored at room temperature in your pantry for months without issue—even if the jar has been opened already.
Nut oils (like hazelnut oil) must be refrigerated, but for other types of oil, you're in the clear to leave it on the counter. Oils will become cloudy and harden when refrigerated, and while this doesn't do lasting damage, you'll need to wait for the oil to warm before it tastes right or flows properly again.
16. Salad dressings
Some people refrigerate salad dressings, some don't. Since many dressings are oil-based, and we've already established oil's longevity outside the fridge, they should be fine in a pantry. Salad dressings that aren't oil-based are usually made of processed goop, and those are dense with preservatives anyway. Use your best judgment, of course, and follow the directions on the label.
Many people stores apples in the fruit drawer, but that's not entirely necessary. More importantly, it could reduce the amount of antioxidants in the fruit's skin. Apples will keep for about a week outside the fridge, and depending on the variety, they might last a bit longer inside. Whether the tradeoffs are worth it is up to you.
Go ahead and refrigerate your leftover iced coffee from lunch, but coffee beans and grounds should really be stored more carefully. Condensation created by the fridge or freezer can affect the flavor of the beans, and sensitive palates can detect the difference. For best results, store beans or grounds in an airtight container outside the refrigerator instead.
Despite the "refrigerate after opening" labels, you really don't have to refrigerate processed condiments like ketchup and mustard. They'll do fine right there on the kitchen table, just like the ones left beside the menus at the local diner.
20. Soy sauce
The "refrigerate after opening" warning on that bottle of Kikkoman is only there because they're required to write it by law. The truth is, all the salt in the sauce should keep the stuff safe for months without refrigeration, so it can join your other condiments on the table.
21. Maple syrup
When it comes to refrigeration practices, maple syrup is highly contested: While it can grow mold if left at room temperature, the cold can also cause it to crystalize, ruining the bottle. It’s safe to say something like Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth’s will be safe to live in the pantry since they’re more corn syrup than maple, but if you have the real deal, just keep an eye on it and toss it if it starts to look off.
The combination of refrigerator humidity and chocolate’s tendency to absorb odors make storing the treat a no-go. Chocolate can last for a year on the counter—two if it’s dark—as long as its kept away from sunlight and moisture. If you’re craving a chilled bite of something sweet (we’ve been known to stash peppermint patties in the back of the fridge for emergencies), make sure to use an airtight container.
Sure, you want your bubbly to be chilled, but leaving a bottle in the fridge for an extended period of time can actually affect the taste since the cork can dry out and allow humidity to enter. Don’t just take our word for it: The quality control manager for Moët & Chandon advises not leaving champagne in the fridge for longer than three to four days. For best results, just pop it in the fridge a few hours before you need it.
For more in-depth info on all your refrigeration needs (or lack thereof) head back to our hub for refrigerator coverage.