By Linda Formichelli
Your sister keeps tomatoes on the countertop, but your best friend insists they should be cold. You've heard that bread gets stale faster in the fridge, but molds more quickly outside of it. And fruit goes in the crisper drawer—except when it doesn't.
If you're confused by all the conflicting rules about what foods go where, don't fret: We got the inside scoop from registered dietitians who are experts in food storage.
You're Getting Warmer
Here are the items that should be stored on the countertop or in the pantry:
Honey is very shelf-stable—it's one of the few foods that never spoil, according to Debbi Beauvais, RDN, SNS, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Also, if you chill honey it becomes hard to pour, so keep it in your pantry.
Tomatoes fare better when kept out of the fridge, where they can become mealy. It's true that they spoil faster when stored on the counter. If you won't be eating them quickly enough that spoilage isn't an issue, store ripe tomatoes in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days. However, keep in mind that once you cut into a tomato (or any fruit or vegetable), it needs to be refrigerated to slow the growth of harmful bacteria.
Potatoes' starch turns to sugar when refrigerated—and refrigerating potatoes can also cause them to sprout faster, says Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RDN, CDE, an Academy spokesperson—so store them in a cool, dry place like your pantry.
Bread can stale quickly in the fridge due to the dry circulating air. If you're afraid your bread will go moldy because your kitchen is hot or humid, or because you won't be eating it quickly, Dobbins says it's better to keep it—well wrapped—in the freezer for up to 3 months. You can remove only what you need and thaw it on the counter or in the toaster on the "defrost" setting.
Peanut butter becomes difficult to spread when it's cold, so store it in your pantry if you will use it within 2 to 3 months. Store in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 months. However, if you buy natural peanut butter, check the label; some brands recommend refrigeration to keep the natural oils from separating.
Keep Your Cool
These are some foods that do better in the refrigerator:
Olive oil and nut oils go rancid quickly when exposed to light and heat, which puts the kibosh on their healthful qualities. Refrigeration may cause these oils to become cloudy, but they'll clear up when they return to room temperature.
Cheese may be best served at room temperature—but it, like all animal-derived food, still needs to be stored in the fridge. Take it out an hour or so before serving for the best flavor.
Butter should be kept cold. Your grandma may have kept her butter in a crock on the counter to keep it nice and spreadable—but Beauvais recommends avoiding the risk of bacterial contamination by keeping butter in the fridge and removing it a little while before serving to let it soften.
Reviewed April 2013