The fridge might seem like the best spot for most fruits, vegetables, and perishable goods, but you can’t always count on that rule of thumb. Give your groceries a better chance at a vibrant life in your ice chest with these savvy storage tips.
You’re bringing home fresh fruits and vegetables to get more whole foods on your plate, but you’re finding the tomatoes turn mealy, the onions sog out in the pan, and potatoes are oddly sweet just a few days after their cold storage. That’s not ideal—and it’s entirely reversible. Indeed, these fresh food faux pas are the result of improper storage. These tips can help you keep your goods from going bad before you’re able to chop, dice, or mince them into a meal.
Here, 10 foods you’re storing wrong—and where to store them instead.
1. Blueberries, Blackberries, Raspberries, and Strawberries
“Always keep fresh berries like blueberries in the refrigerator, dry and unwashed, in a rigid container, such as their original packaging or in a bowl covered with plastic wrap,” says Sonali Ruder, an emergency department doctor, trained chef, and blogger. “They should last up to 10 days if stored this way.”
Ruder adds you can also freeze berries for an even longer life, but make sure you rinse and dry them well before the big chill. Remaining drops of water invite freezer burn, which leaves berries bitter and flavorless after storage.
‘“After rinsing and drying, put them in containers or resealable plastic bags and pop them in the freezer,” she says. “They’ll last for six months.”
Cold temps draw moisture out of potatoes, leaving them shriveled and shrunken. The fridge’s climate also converts the starches in potatoes to sugar, according to Potatoes USA, a potato marketing and research organization. The result? Savory potatoes turn sweet, and the texture comes out gluey when cooked. The potatoes also take on a brown hue when cooked. That doesn’t mean they’re bad—you can safely eat them if you can stomach the odd texture and flavor—but they’re certainly not very appealing.
If you do store potatoes in the fridge, take them out and let them come to room temperature before cooking. It won’t stop the sugar conversion, but it will help prevent the discoloration when you’re cooking them.
Keep spuds in top shape by storing them in a cool, dry place, like a pantry or cabinet. Don’t store them near the stove, oven, dishwasher, or sink, however. These places have too many temperature swings and too much moisture for proper potato storage.
Like potatoes, garlic cloves may wither in the cooler fridge temps. This potent flavor producer belongs in a cool, dry spot like a cabinet or pantry.
If you’ve come into a bounty of bulbs, you can freeze them for long-term keeping. Freeze the bulbs whole and in tact, or remove individual cloves, peel the papery husk, and freeze in a jar or wrapped in aluminum foil.
You can remove individual cloves for a recipe, or let a whole bulb come to room temp when you’re ready to use it. Frozen garlic may chop or mince more easily than fresh, so consider this a little cooking bonus.
WATCH: 6 Rules for Freezing Food
The humble onion has no place in the chilly fridge, says Tom Irving, a British nutritionist, dietitian, and blogger. “Some people treat them like salad veg and store them in the fridge, which is wrong on several levels,” he says. “This is a faux pas because the cold and damp environment is perfect for the conversion of starch in the onion to sugar, spoiling the onion and losing that distinctive crunch.”
Also, an onion’s heady aroma can spread to nearby fruits and vegetables. No one’s looking forward to biting into an onion-scented apple. “Onions have particularly volatile aroma compounds which mean they should be stored away from other foods,” Irving says.
If stored in a dark, cool, and dry environment, Irving says, onions will last up to 30 days. However, once you have cut into an onion (but are not using the whole thing at once), wrap whatever is left in plastic wrap and stash in the fridge.
The phrase “cool as a cucumber” does the slender fruit a disservice. Cucumbers don’t actually like to be cold, or even cool for that matter. Temps below 50 degrees—most fridges hover around 40°F—speed up spoilage. Cucumbers last longer when stored at room temperature. Keep them in a dry spot on the counter, and protect them from possible damage. A fruit bowl, for example, wouldn’t be a good spot for cucumbers because the tumble from hands can damage the cuke’s sensitive skin.
Also, keep cucumbers away from other fruits like tomatoes, bananas, and melons. The ethylene gases these fruits emit as they ripen will push cucumbers to ripen faster.
If walk in the door and immediately nestle your beautiful farmers’ market Brandywine tomatoes in your fridge’s crisper drawer, stop. You’re destroying an immaculate work of nature. The fridge’s cold environment turns delicate tomatoes mealy, mushy, and messy. Tomatoes kept in cold storage lose flavor and water out, according to the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. What’s left of your heirloom fruit is a sad state of affairs.
The only time it’s acceptable to put tomatoes in the fridge is to delay “just-ripe” tomatoes from turning too soft. You can leave them in for a short time—no more than two days. In this ripe state, the tomatoes don’t lose as much flavor.
Store tomatoes at room temperature and away from anything that can bruise the delicate skin. If too many are ripe at once, look to make a homemade tomato sauce.
The quaint egg cups in refrigerator doors may entice you to store your lovely ova there, but resist the urge. Eggs don’t belong in the door.
Dairy products and eggs belong in the coldest part of the fridge. That’s typically the center shelf. Anything in the door faces multiple temperature swings every day. Each time the fridge door is flung open, these raw foods rise in temp. That can lead to early spoilage or, worse, food poisoning.
8. Fresh Herbs
You likely buy bunches of herbs at the grocery store or farmers’ market, but don’t put them away once you’re home without first giving them a shot at a longer shelf life. Herbs need a bit of humidity and moisture to last, so wrap the stems of cilantro, parsley, and other leafy herbs in a damp paper towel. Place the herbs and towel in a resealable plastic bag, and store in your fridge’s crisper drawer. Rewet the paper towel every two days.
There’s one exception to this rule, and that’s basil. Don’t keep basil in your fridge. Instead, put the fragrant herbs in a cup of water, and place them on the counter. The cool temps and humidity of a fridge turn basil leaves yellow and cause them to shrink.
For the love of all things avocado, do not store these sacred fruits in the fridge. Avocados will not ripen in the fridge’s cool temps. They’ll be rock hard a week after you put them in the drawer.
Instead, leave avocados on a counter or in a cool, dry place. Remove any plastic bag coverings. The gases avocados emit need to escape so you don’t risk spoilage or rotting.
One time is it OK to store an avocado in the fridge? Once it’s ripe and you’ve sliced into it. Wrap the fruit in plastic wrap, and chill it in the fridge to slow additional ripening.
10. Red Meat
Fish, poultry, and other meats should go in the bottom of your fridge, away from any foods you might not wash before eating. Certainly don’t store meat above ready-to-eat foods. Any leakage from the meat could pose a serious food safety risk.
Most fridges come with built-in drawers for meats. Line the bottom with a disposable antibacterial mat you can replace regularly to keep from spreading bacteria around your fridge’s interior.
3 Rules for Fresh Food Storage
1. Don’t wash anything before you’re ready to use it. If you’ve picked up the habit of washing fruits and vegetables before storing them, stop. “Washing them speeds up deterioration, so only rinse them just before eating,” Ruder says.
2. Fruits and vegetables don’t mix. This isn’t a healthy-foods turf battle; it’s just a scientific fact. Many fruits, like apples and tomatoes, produce ethylene gas. This emission acts like a speed ripener for any nearby vegetables and can cause spoilage.
3. Scrap the plastic. If you bag your Brussels sprouts or broccoli at the grocery store, take them out and store them in a breathable mesh produce bag in the fridge. The plastic traps air, which can make them spoil more quickly.