Where to Store Foods in the Kitchen

Reviewed by Jill Kohn, MS, RDN, LDN
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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 have the inside scoop from registered dietitian nutritionists who are experts in food storage.

You're Getting Warmer: Foods to Store on the countertop or in the pantry

Honey is very shelf-stable and will last a long time.  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 within 1 to 2 days, store  ripened 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 and Onions like the same conditions, but they should not be stored together. Potato starch turns to sugar when refrigerated. Potatoes and onions should be stored in a cool, dry place such as the bottom of your pantry. Remove any potatoes and onions that go bad in the pantry from the rest. 

Bread can stale quickly in the fridge due to the dry circulating air. If you're afraid your bread will become moldy because your kitchen is hot or humid, or because you won't be eating it quickly, freeze it. 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: 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, like all animal-derived food, still needs to be stored in the fridge. Take it out a short time before serving for the best flavor. Perishable foods, including cheese, should be thrown out if they are kept out of the refrigerator for two or more hours. In the warmer months, that amount of time will be less.

Butter should be kept cold. Your grandma may have kept her butter in a crock on the counter to keep it nice and spreadable. However, keeping butter refrigerated avoids risky bacterial contamination. If you want soft butter, remove it for a little while before serving to let it soften.

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