What do you need to refrigerate – really?

This is a question I asked myself the other day. For the majority of the human existence on this planet we lived without refrigeration. Our great grandparents did it – how? In the United States we have some of the largest refridgerators and freezers in the world – why?

I found out that often what is stored in your fridge comes down to cultural or even family habits.

I have been in households that store both peanut butter and honey in the refrigerator – something I would never do. Just because you refrigerate something does not mean it is unsafe to not refrigerate it. For this reason, Europeans, who eat mostly fresh foods and like to drink beverages like milk and beer at room temperature, typically have much smaller refrigerators than those in the United States.

Condiments like ketchup, mustard and BBQ sauce, which lots of us are in the habit of storing in the fridge, typically don’t need to be refrigerated. Opened jams, jellies, pickles, and olives do not require refrigeration over the short-term. And while fruits, vegetables, cheese and butter may stay edible for weeks in the refrigerator, if you plan to eat them within a week, they can do just fine on the counter in a cool, dry place. And NEVER refrigerate a tomato – it ruins the taste.

For example, depending on the temperature, unrefrigerated chicken eggs age roughly a week’s worth of refrigerated time in a day. Since eggs usually last six to eight weeks in a refrigerator, that gives you about a week to eat a fresh egg. A good check for egg freshness is to see if it floats – if it does, the egg should be discarded.

The best place to store cheese is in a cool (45 – 55°F) larder or cellar. Hard cheeses (parmesan, romano, cheddar) may be stored at room temperature for significant periods of time if they are kept moist. Some recommend to wrap the cheese in a vinegar-soaked cloth to prevent mold formation and retain moisture.

When buying fresh foods, it’s important to know how long perishables last so you don’t waste them. As a rule of thumb, grapes and bananas last a week, pears, lettuce, cucumbers and peppers can last two weeks and apples, cabbage, radishes, oranges and celery can last a month.

Still not sure how long that food item will last? Stilltastey.com lets you know, and gives great tips on food storage.

By refrigerating less you may be able to reduce the size of your fridge, saving you money on the purchase, and money in the long run by reducing your energy bills. Try it!

  • Ruth Heil

    This is fantastic and very useful information. Thanks for posting it.

    I “fired” a past CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) because they washed and refrigerated the vegis prior to pickup. I was forced to stuff it all in the fridge, and since it was wet, it didn’t keep nearly as long as if it would have just been left alone. The farmers were going through a ton of extra work and trouble and expense (refrigeration) to actually ruin the fresh-vegi experience for their shareholders.

    Thanks for reminding us that, while refrigeration has its purpose, it need not be the focal point of any kitchen.

  • http://profiles.google.com/kanelstrand Kanelstrand Design

    Great information, I will check out the stilltastey website.

    Because I am a European I feel obliged to comment :) Indeed, at home we never store fruit in the fridge, except for watermelon and melon after they have been cut open. In fact, we don’t refrigerate vegetables either, except for salads and cucumbers. I sure prefer to have my egs in the fridge though, just in case. Jams, honey, olive oil, mustard never go in the fridge and ketchup, BBQ sauce – well, we don’t use them at home.

    We make do with a pretty small fridge and sometimes when it’s too crowded we get the things out on the balcony (in the colder months) or just plan our shopping.

    Thanks for a very realistic post!

  • peter

    nice information thanks, i think the fact is people are just used to  refrigerator as storage.
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  • Mag

    Thank you for this.  My renter (now friend, I hope!) is apparently used to storing EVERYTHING in the fridge.   So we don’t have room for….well….what I would call “real food.”   I’m going to move it all out.  We never even kept PIES in the fridge at home and we’re still all alive and kicking.  (That’s why there were pie safes–for the cakes and pies.  Kept the flies off.)  I just retired from full-time part of my jobs and I’m going to garden.  And I will NEVER put a tomato in the fridge!  Thank you so much for a great answer.

    • http://asimplygoodlife.com Vanessa

      Good point! My mother actually has an antique pie safe. I’m not keen on putting cake in the fridge either – but my husband always does! Hrumf. You’re welcome. Happy noshing!

    • Chris (UK)

      I never, ever store chicken eggs in the ‘fridge and they keep for many weeks past their ‘use by’ date in a container on the work surface. Also, fully agree re tomatoes, their flavour is ruined by refrigeration. Regarding cheese, I store harder cheeses in my unheated conservatory during the winter but prefer the softer, particularly Italian, cheeses to be refrigerated.

  • Myaggie2

    Thankx for this invaluable info. One more question. I make an herbed (dried herbs) and extra virgin olive oil pasta sauce. I use shredded Pecorino Romano sheep cheese in it and fresh onion and olive cloves. I have never refrigerated it. It sits for months on my counter before it’s gone. Does the olive oil somehow preserve the fresh onion, garlic and cheese? Or am I eating something unsafe? Thankx so much for your time.

    • http://asimplygoodlife.com Vanessa

      Hmmm. Not sure. I do know that olive oil can go rancid, but if it hasn’t hurt you thus far I’d say you’re safe. ;)

  • Joe

    If you’ve already purchased a fridge, keeping it full actually saves you money on energy bills because cold food retains the “cold” more efficiently than air.

  • Food Safety FTW

    Wow, this is wonderful advice. I have NEVER seen milk go sour after less than a day outside the fridge. /S. Hope you and everyone who takes this article seriously enjoys foodborne illnesses. By the way, what accredited college or vocational school did you get your degree in culinary arts, food science, or microbiology from?

    • asimplygoodlife

      My goodness I am no expert (nor claim to be which I think one can tell from my tone in the post). A quick look around my blog will tell you that. I am simply stating observation and pulled some info together I have learned over the years. Use your discretion of course!

  • augie

    I just need to know….I had pickles in the fridge and it broke down, the pickles were left out in the basement for a week. Are they still good? thanks in advance