By Leigh Weingus
Halfway through the year, to say that 2020 has dealt us a bit of a difficult hand so far is an understatement. While the degree of toughness varies from person to person, most people are spending a lot more time at home. This has turned many of us into cooks and bakers (sourdough bread, anyone?) making fridge and pantry space valuable real estate.
Consider this, though: Many of the items you pack into your already overstuffed refrigerator might not need to be there at all. We chatted with registered dietitian and nutritionist Maya Feller to get the scoop on which foods you can take out of the fridge and put in the pantry instead.
Because butter is pasteurized and higher in saturated fatty acids, it’s less prone to bacterial growth than other types of dairy. If you want to store your butter on the counter or in the pantry, you’re probably better off going with salted butter, which allows for less bacterial growth than unsalted butter.
“On the other hand, unsalted, whipped, and unpasteurized butter are best stored in the refrigerator to reduce bacterial growth,” says Feller. “Keeping butter in an airtight container at room temperature is okay, but no longer than two weeks.”
If you want your butter to last longer than two weeks, Feller advises keeping it in the fridge. One perk of room temperature butter, thought? It’s a lot easier to spread on toast.
Confused about whether your peanut and almond butter belongs in the refrigerator or not? If you like your nut butter cold that’s fine, but as long as you’re going through it in a timely manner, it probably doesn’t need to go in the refrigerator at all.
“According to the USDA, nut butter can be left in a cool, dark place away from direct heat six to nine months unopened or two to three months opened,” says Feller. If you want to increase shelf life, place it in the fridge.
Eggs are an interesting one: If eggs haven’t been washed or refrigerated, you can leave them out at room temperature. While eggs aren’t washed and refrigerated in some parts of the world and even parts of the U.S., if you’re getting eggs from a grocery store, chances are you’ll need to put them in the fridge when you get home.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires eggs to be washed, and during this washing process the outside natural coating of the egg is removed, leaving just the shell porous,” says Feller. “Once the egg is refrigerated, the egg must stay refrigerated. When a cold egg is left at room temperature, there is an unwanted shift in the temperature of the egg, which can increase bacterial growth.”
Refrigeration rules depend on the type of fruit, according to Feller. Apples, avocados and bananas can all be stored at room temperature (and in fact avocados and bananas will only ripen at room temperature), whereas berries, cherries and grapes should all be stored in the refrigerator. Cut melon (think cantaloupe and watermelon) should be stored in the fridge, while stone fruit (nectarine, peaches) can be stored in a paper bag on the counter until they’re ripe. If they ripen but you’re not ready to eat them, they should go in the fridge.
And here’s an interesting one: Your tomatoes should never go in the refrigerator. “Tomatoes should always be stored at room temperature in a bowl away from heat and sunlight,” says Feller. “Refrigeration allows tomatoes to rot quickly.”
Most vegetables (think broccoli, celery, corn, lettuce, green beans, and leafy green veggies) should be stored in the refrigerator, according to Feller. Exceptions include root vegetables like sweet potatoes, regular potatoes and squash, along with onion and garlic, all of which should be stored in a cool, dry place. “You’ll want to store garlic and onions away from other foods due to their strong odors,” says Feller.
A note on temperatures
If you have a kitchen that tends to be on the warmer side, keep that in mind as you store certain foods on your counter or in your cabinets. “The ideal temperature your kitchen and pantry should be kept at is between 50 and 70 degrees fahrenheit,” says Feller. “Keeping your kitchen and pantry between these temperatures is ideal to keep food fresh and safe.”
Clearing out that fridge yet and making more room in the pantry? We thought so.
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