The refrigerator is an appliance so beloved that many of us assume that it can do no wrong. Although it's adept at keeping that macaroni salad picnic-perfect and uncooked ground beef from spoiling, it actually can cause other foods to lose texture and flavor faster than they would otherwise. Here are five foods that do a lot better outside the fridge than in it.
"Although refrigeration does delay the growth of mold, a refrigerated environment is very dry and will therefore hasten the staling of bread," Randy George, president and co-owner of Vermont-based Red Hen Baking Company explains in an email. He notes that hearth-baked breads are best kept at room temperature in a paper bag, perforated bag, or even no bag at all. "This preserves the crisp crust. Although the humidity of your room will vary, it is rarely as dry as the inside of a refrigerator," he adds. If you need to keep the bread fresh for a longer period of time, opt to freeze it in a tightly sealed plastic bag.
The refrigerator might not be the last place on earth to store potatoes, but it's pretty close. This is because potatoes don't fare well at temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius). At that temperature, their inherent starches start to break down into sugars, which in turn can cause unfortunate changes to texture and taste, making the potatoes sweeter and tougher.
Instead, look for a dark, humid environment between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 and 10 degrees Celsius). If you live in a Northern climate you could store potatoes in a pantry, basement or a root cellar if you have one. If you live in a warmer part of the world, you can still store them in a cellar or kitchen cupboard — just make sure you use up your potatoes in a week or two. After that, the potatoes will start to sprout. Once you find the perfect storage spot, wrap the spuds up in a paper bag, rather than a stifling plastic bag, for storage.
3. Winter Squash
There's no need to get fancy with squash storage – the counter top will do just fine if you're planning to eat them pretty soon. If you want them to last longer select a cool, dark place, preferably around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), like a kitchen pantry, drawer or cabinet.
Winter squash will last longer if they aren't touching each other or hard surfaces, so it's advised to wrap each one up in paper or cloth. Some varieties (like acorn or butternut squash) may last for months this way, assuming your storage area is cool enough. Be sure not to store squash next to fruits or veggies that produce ethylene (a hydrocarbon gas put out by ripening fruits and veggies), as this may cause the squash to start rotting. Some of these include tomatoes, onions and ripe bananas.
Room temperature tomato storage is best to keep them from spoiling, while also maintaining the best possible flavor. Ripe tomatoes usually stay good for about two or three days post-purchase if placed stem scar side up, away from direct sunlight, ideally in a paper bag. This is because exposure to warm sunlight will heat up the tomato and make it soften more quickly. Note that some tomato varieties have been specially bred to extend their shelf life, and these may last as long as a week or two on the counter.
If you absolutely must make that special tomato on your counter last a little longer, you can put it in the fridge; just be sure to take it out an hour or so before slicing and serving to bring some of the original flavor back.
Much like potatoes, onions will do well stored in a kitchen cabinet or pantry. The difference is we're looking for a dry, dark and cool environment, as opposed to the cool dark humid environment preferred by potatoes. This is particularly true of dry yellow bulb onions. Be sure to avoid storing them in plastic bags because air flow can't get in. Make sure that there's enough ventilation in the space to keep them fresh and flavorful.
Occasionally, onions do warrant refrigeration, according to the National Onion Association. In particular, pre-cut onions should always be refrigerated after purchase, as well as whole peeled onions. Mild or sweet onions, which have a high water content, can be refrigerated if necessary to prevent spoiling. But make sure to use the lowest humidity setting available in your fridge because they like a really dry environment.