Need to know
- Putting certain foods in the fridge can do more harm than good, encouraging decay and spoiling flavours, not to mention wasting money
- Bread and coffee should never be stored in the fridge, but they can go in the freezer
- Eggs don't need to go in the fridge, but they'll last longer if they do, especially if kept in their carton
Do you know which foods don't need to be refrigerated? For many of us, the answer is a matter of what we grew up with or personal preference.
But there are some hard and fast rules for certain foods as to whether storing them in the fridge will increase their longevity, keep them at their best and help you reduce waste and save money. (With certain caveats, of course, such as if you live in a warm or tropical climate where things turn mouldy at the drop of a hat.)
CHOICE home economist Fiona Mair and fridge expert Ashley Iredale have come together to bring you the ultimate list of all the things that should be stored in the fridge, and the things that definitely shouldn't.
Ultimate guide to what does, and doesn't, go in the fridge
|Food item||Refrigerate?||Expert comments|
|Apples||No||Apples produce the ripening agent ethylene, which can cause other foods to spoil more quickly.|
|Avocados||It depends||Keep at room temperature to ripen. Once ripe, you can pop them in the fridge to stop them going bad. Store in the fridge once cut.|
|Bananas||It depends||Store unripe bananas on the bench until they're at your preferred ripeness. Then you can put them in the fridge to stop them over-ripening. (Just be aware that the peel will turn dark brown, but this won't affect the taste.)|
|Basil||No||The dry air of the fridge causes the leaves to wilt easily. Instead, cut the bottom of the stems, place them in a jar with a small amount of water, and leave the jar in a cool place. Change the water and cut the stems every couple of days.|
|Berries||No||Berries keep their flavour better when stored on the bench.|
|Bread||It depends||Bread goes hard much faster in the fridge than in the pantry. In non-tropical areas, bread should live on the bench or in the freezer (slice it first). In tropical areas, it's best to store it in the fridge so it doesn't go mouldy.|
|Butter||Yes||If you live in a cooler climate, you can store a small amount of butter covered up on the kitchen bench to make it easier to spread. But if you live somewhere warm it's not likely to survive the heat without turning into a puddle!|
|Cheese||Yes||Like the butter keeper, the dairy compartment of your fridge will help prevent cheese from absorbing odours from the rest of the fridge, and will keep it closer to serving temperature. However, if you're not serving it in the immediate future, keep it in an airtight container in a cooler part of the fridge, particularly soft cheeses, as they're prone to listeria.|
|Chocolate||No||Chocolate will absorb the odour of other foods in the fridge.|
|Citrus||It depends||If you're using your citrus quickly, it'll be fine on the bench, but they'll keep for longer in the fridge if you're not going to use them immediately.|
|Coffee||No||Store in an airtight container in a dark space, away from sunlight, heat, steam and moisture.|
|Condiments (e.g. oyster sauce)||It depends||Sauces generally don't need to be stored in the fridge, but if you don't get through them very quickly, it's best to keep them in the fridge to inhibit bacterial growth. Homemade sauces made without preservatives are best kept in the fridge.|
|Coriander||Yes||Wrap loosely in absorbent paper and put in a sealed container in the crisper.|
|Dried fruit||No||Dried fruit is fine in the cupboard for up to six months.|
|Eggplant||No||Eggplant can lose flavour in the fridge.|
|Eggs||It depends||Eggs don't need to go in the fridge but they'll last longer if they do. And if they've been refrigerated before (for instance, at the supermarket) then they should also go in your fridge at home. Leave them in the cardboard carton to stop condensation building up and to stop them absorbing odours from the rest of the fridge.|
|Garlic||No||Keep in a cool, dry place.|
|Ginger||Yes||Stored in the fridge it will last longer and stay fresher.|
|Honey||No||Honey won't go off, no matter where you keep it – but if it's in the fridge it'll harden and crystallise.|
|Hot food||No||Hot food will affect the fridge's internal temperature. Instead, portion into shallow containers and cool to 60°C (or when it's stopped steaming) before placing in the fridge.|
|Jam||Yes||Refrigerate after opening.|
|Mangoes||No||Tropical fruits can deteriorate in the fresh food compartment of a fridge and are better stored in slightly warmer environments.|
|Maple syrup||Yes||Genuine 100% maple syrup (not maple-flavoured syrup, which is mostly sugar) can actually develop mould when kept at room temperature. Store the bottle in the fridge once it's been opened.|
|Melons||It depends||Keep whole melons at room temperature, but refrigerate them as soon as they're cut.|
|Mint||Yes||Wrap loosely in absorbent paper and put in a sealed container in the crisper.|
|Mustard||Yes||Mustard and horseradish can lose their flavours if they're not kept in the fridge.|
|Non-dairy milks||It depends||Before opening, these generally don't need to be refrigerated. After you've opened the carton, however, you should store it in the fridge and use it up within a week.|
|Nut and seed oils||Yes||Refrigeration prevents the oils from oxidising and going rancid quickly.|
|Nut butters||No||As for peanut butter.|
|Nuts||No||If you're not going to get through nuts within a few months, you can keep them in an airtight container in the freezer.|
|Olive oil||No||Olive oil hardens in the fridge. Keep it in a cool, dark place instead.|
|Onions||No||Keep in a cool, dry place (but not in a plastic bag or near potatoes).|
|Parsley||No||The dry air of the fridge causes the leaves to wilt easily. Instead, cut the bottom of the stems, place them in a jar with a small amount of water, and leave the jar in a cool place. Change the water and cut the stems every couple of days.|
|Peanut butter||It depends||In temperate climates, it's fine in the fridge for three months after opening. To extend its shelf life, you can keep it in the fridge – though this will harden it and make it a bit more difficult to spread.|
|Pickles (onions, jalapeños, gherkins etc.)||It depends||Refrigerate after opening.|
|Potatoes||No||Keep in a cool, dry place.|
|Stonefruit||Yes and no||Store stonefruit on the countertop until they reach their desired ripeness, then put them in the fridge to stop them going off.|
|Tomato sauce||It depends||Tomato and BBQ sauces generally don't need to be stored in the fridge, but if you don't get through them very quickly, it's best to keep them in the fridge to inhibit bacterial growth. Homemade sauces made without preservatives are best kept in the fridge.|
|Tomatoes||No||Tomatoes lose flavour when kept in the fridge.|
|UHT milk||It depends||UHT milk is shelf-stable but needs to be refrigerated after opening, and used within a week.|
Foods you definitely don't need to refrigerate
Tomatoes are best left on the bench. Research shows that chilling tomatoes below 12°C limits their ability to generate substances that contribute to aroma and taste. In other words, they won't be as nice to eat.
"Tomatoes lose flavour when placed in the fridge," says CHOICE home economist Fiona Mair. "I always keep my tomatoes in my fruit bowl or on the window sill.
Chilling tomatoes limits their ability to generate substances that contribute to aroma and taste
"I like to buy a mixture of firm and slightly soft tomatoes so I have beautifully ripened tomatoes I can use across the week."
And because they're sensitive to ethylene – a gas that accelerates ripening – keeping them separate from ethylene-producing foods, such as bananas, apples, pears and oranges, will ensure your tomatoes stay fresh for longer.
CHOICE tip: Buy a mixture of firm and slightly soft tomatoes so you have ripe tomatoes across the week.
Ground or whole-bean coffee should never be kept in the fridge, even if it's in an airtight container. Why? Because coffee works as a deodoriser and absorbs moisture, odours and flavours from the air around it, making your morning cuppa taste less like the nectar of the gods and more like a nasty flavouring of 'fridge'. Ew.
Instead, keep your beans in an airtight container in a dark space such as your pantry, away from sunlight, heat, steam and moisture.
Coffee absorbs moisture, odours and flavours from the air around it
For the best flavour and freshness, buy your beans as fresh as possible and use them one to four weeks after roasting.
Some people like to freeze their coffee, but the US National Coffee Association say many experts recommend against this. If you do freeze your coffee, make sure you use a truly airtight container and do so in small portions – once you've taken your beans out of the freezer, it's best not to put them back in again.
Uncut root vegetables
Root vegetables, such as potatoes, onions, sweet potato and garlic, thrive outside the fridge. The humidity in fridge crispers can cause root vegetables to rot faster. It's also important that you don't store root vegetables together, as this can affect their flavour.
"Keeping these types of food out of the refrigerator is generally to avoid moisture absorption that happens in the refrigerator, as this can cause foods to ferment and reduce the taste and quality," says Fiona. "Best to find a cool dry dark spot in your kitchen."
Root vegetables thrive outside the fridge
According to Aloysa Hourigan, accredited practising dietitian and nutritionist and media manager at Nutrition Australia, there are some exceptions to the rule, especially after the vegetables have been cut.
"Onions are best stored out of the fridge until they're cut, then need to be covered or placed in a sealed container and kept in the fridge," she says.
"Whole pumpkins can be stored out of the fridge for many weeks, but once cut, they need to be stored in the fridge."
Oils and sauces
"Coconut oil is climate-dependent and will solidify at temperatures lower than 24°C, so it's best to keep it in a cool, dark place like the pantry," says Fiona.
But as a general guide, she says, nut and seed oils are best kept in the refrigerator, otherwise they're "more likely to oxidise and go rancid quickly".
As a general guide, nut and seed oils are best kept in the refrigerator
Whether or not you need to put a condiment in the fridge depends entirely on the type of sauce, oil or spread you have, how much preserving salt or sugar they contain, and whether it's been opened.
"With bottled sauces, such as soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, oyster sauce and curry pastes, it's always best to check the label to see if it says 'refrigerate after opening'," says Aloysa.
Bread doesn't belong in the fridge – it'll go stale much faster than if you just keep it in the pantry.
Instead, keep your bread in an airtight tin, bread box or, for hard-crusted bread, a brown paper bag. Avoid plastic too, as this encourages bread to go mouldy faster.
Fresh bread will only last a few days before it naturally goes stale, but you can extend its life span by putting it in the freezer. Doing so slows down the natural process of retrogradation and recrystallisation, and stops it going stale.
If you live in a humid climate, you may find that your bread turns mouldy quickly
However, if you live in a humid climate, you may find that your bread turns mouldy quickly.
"We found that if you freeze bread immediately after slicing, it remains fresh for quite some time," says a CHOICE Community member who lives in the tropics.
"We just pop slices into the toaster straight from the freezer. Whole loaves or buns can be either oven heated or microwaved."
Honey and peanut butter
Honey and nut spreads are all unique, so all need different types of storage. This is why it's important to always check the label for advice.
Honey is one of the few foods in the world that never spoils, thanks to its one-of-a-kind chemical make-up. The reason honey doesn't go bad is because bacteria can't grow in it, so it's happy to sit at room temperature in your pantry, where it stays soft and easy to spread. When refrigerated, honey crystallises, but is still perfectly edible.
Honey's durability is legendary. When archeologists opened ancient Egyptian tombs, they found jars of honey from the days of the Pharaohs that were still good to eat.
Honey is one of the few foods in the world that never spoils, thanks to its one-of-a-kind chemical make-up
Although bacteria-free, botulism may be present in honey. It's not usually harmful to adults but that's the reason why honey is not recommended for babies under 12 months old.
As for peanut butter, it's fine in the pantry for three months or so after opening (in temperate climates). But to extend its shelf life and avoid oil separation, you can also keep it in the fridge, though this will harden it and could make it a bit more difficult to spread.
Basil and parsley
Some herbs such as coriander and mint are best kept in the refrigerator crisper, wrapped loosely in absorbent paper and put in a sealed container.
But basil and parsley will turn a nasty shade of yuk if you keep them in the crisper.
"These herbs seem to do better out of the fridge," says Aloysa. "The dry air in the refrigerator causes the leaves to wilt easily."
To store your basil and parsley, Fiona says, cut the bottom of the stems, place them in a jar with a small amount of water, then leave the jar in a cool place. "You'll just need to change the water and cut the bottom of the stems every couple of days," she says.
Putting hot food in the fridge can wreak havoc on its internal temperature, which may affect other food in the fridge as well.
But leave your leftovers out for too long and you run the risk of letting food poisoning bacteria multiply.
Food shouldn't be left out of the fridge in the 'danger zone' of between 5°C and 60°C for more than two hours.
So, for the sake of freshness as well as food safety, portion any leftover hot food into shallow containers and allow to cool to around 60°C (roughly when it stops steaming) before placing in the fridge.
For more information, see FSANZ's tips for cooling and heating food safely.
Should you put eggs in the fridge?
Eggs don't need to go in the fridge, but they'll last longer if they do.
If they've been washed or refrigerated before (for instance, at the supermarket) then they should also go in your fridge at home.
Leave the eggs in their cardboard cartons (not in the egg holders in your fridge door) to stop condensation building up. The carton also helps stop eggs absorbing odours from the rest of the fridge, and is a good reminder of the use-by date.
Leave the eggs in their cardboard cartons to stop condensation building up
Aloysa also recommends discarding any cracked eggs and not washing eggs with water because shells are porous and doing so may encourage the growth of bacteria.
"If an egg appears dirty, the advice recommended by the egg industry is that it is OK to wipe it with a dry paper towel – but if the dirt does not come off, then it is best to discard the egg," she says.
Foods you definitely do need to refrigerate
Milk and dairy products
Keep cheeses in the dairy compartment of your fridge – it'll stop them absorbing odours from other foods in your fridge.
The dairy compartment tends to be the warmest part of the fridge and keeps butter and foods like soft cheeses ready to serve. But you can also store these foods at colder temperatures, so you can move them elsewhere in the fridge if your dairy compartment is overflowing.
The downside of keeping soft cheeses in the dairy compartment is that they may not last as long – so if you're not planning to eat it straight away, put cheese in the main fridge compartment where it's colder.
Cling wrap can cause cheese to sweat, so it's best stored either in the paper it came in or in baking paper, so it can breathe.
CHOICE tip: Once you've wrapped it, store cheese in an airtight container with a single sugar cube in the corner – it absorbs moisture from the cheese and will minimise sweating.
Most of us store milk in the fridge door for convenience, but the door shelves can be slightly warmer than is ideal for keeping milk – it's best stored at or below 4°C.
If you don't go through milk quickly and want it to last longer, keep it in a colder place in the body of the fridge.
Meat, poultry and seafood
These should be refrigerated as soon as possible after bringing them home from the supermarket. Pop them in the chiller compartment, which should be set close to 0°C.
If your fridge doesn't have a chiller, keep them in the coldest part of your fridge – usually at the back, where it's less susceptible to warm drafts from the door regularly opening.
How long will it last?
Raw chicken and other poultry should only be kept in your fridge for a couple of days. If you're not going to use it within that time, you should freeze it to avoid food poisoning.
Cooked chicken can last three or four days in the fridge in an airtight container. Just make sure you heat it to at least 70°C to kill bacteria, and don't reheat it more than once.
Unlike other leftovers, rice has a very short shelf life: you should use it within 24 hours. This is because rice contains a bacterium called Bacillus cereus that's commonly found in soil and plants that grow close to the ground.
Bacillus cereus produces toxins that can make you sick, and it's not killed off by the cooking process. Unfortunately, warm and moist cooked rice is the ideal environment for it to grow in.
You can freeze rice immediately after cooking; it will last up to two months
Refrigeration won't kill Bacillus cereus either, but it will slow it down. So if you're not going to eat the rice straight away, you should refrigerate it as soon as it's cool enough, preferably within an hour of cooking.
Make sure it's heated to at least 60°C (preferably hotter) before serving. If you haven't eaten it within a day or two, it's safest to toss it. You can freeze rice immediately after cooking; it will last up to two months.
Fruit and vegetables
Generally, these should be stored in the crisper – but see the table above for any exceptions to the rule.
Tropical fruits can deteriorate in the crisper and are better stored in slightly warmer environments, while apricots, peaches and pears prefer a colder environment with lower humidity.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.