You may think when it comes to keeping foods fresh, nothing beats the refrigerator. Refrigeration keeps food fresh because bacterial growth dramatically slows below 40°F. Refrigeration keeps plant foods like lettuce or celery crisp because the cold temperature and low moisture contracts cells and slows ripening. So what’s the best way to store food properly?
However, some foods, like whole vegetables, fruits, and dry or baked goods do not suffer from bacteria attack. Without the risk, there’s no reason to take up the fridge space. In fact, for foods like avocado, potato, and bread, the fridge conditions could cause damage or degradation.
How to Store Food Without Refrigeration
Root vegetables have been common staples since long before the refrigerator. In fact, many root vegetables that are popular today got that way because they are convenient to stockpile for winter food stores.
In the fridge, condensation can encourage mold growth and rot. The veggies also take up valuable fridge space unnecessarily. The best way to store root vegetables is in a cool, dry place, such as the pantry or cupboard.
Foods with Ethylene Gas
The fridge traps ethylene gas, a natural gas released by some fruits and veggies including apples during ripening. You may recognize the sweet, musky scent of ethylene next time you’re hovering around the produce section of the supermarket.
The gas is a chemical trigger that tells many plants’ cells to progress to the next stage of life. (Use this to your advantage by placing under-ripe tomatoes or avocados in a paper bag with a few apples.)
Starch and Sugar
Low temperature speeds up the breakdown of the starch molecules in bread and other baked goods, causing them to go stale faster. The fridge also pulls moisture out of the bread, which can then condense inside the bag, leading to wet, soggy bread.
- Olive Oil
Sugar-rich foods and syrups crystallize at low temperatures, destroying flavor and texture. Many cooking oils thicken in the cold, making them difficult to use.
- Fresh Herbs
Foods with nuanced, delicate flavors absorb a “fridge-y” taste. To store fresh herbs, place in fresh water in sunlight, just like cut flowers. Coffee can be stored in an airtight container in a cool dark place, or in an airtight container in the freezer.
Don’t Put Hot Leftovers In the Fridge Right Away
- Leftovers that are still hot
While you may think getting that soup straight into the fridge is the best way to prevent bacteria growth, the truth is counter-intuitive. Putting hot foods in the fridge can actually raise the overall temperature of the fridge to above 40°F- putting all your food in the bacterial “danger zone.”
The best way to cool hot food is to leave it on the counter, stirring occasionally to release trapped heat, until it has reached room temperature. As long as you pop it in the fridge within 4 hours of cooking, it is perfectly safe.
Don’t forget to always store ready-to-eat foods above raw foods, such as meats and shellfish. This prevents the raw juices dripping into your food.