If it seems like your refrigerator is always stuffed to the brim, that might be because it’s packed with foods that really don’t need to be in there. For a long time I assumed that anything fresh or organic absolutely needed to be refrigerated, but the opposite is true in some cases. There are even a handful of fruits and vegetables that will actually taste worse if you store them at colder temps. The same goes for oils.
So the next time you’re about to throw all of your groceries into the fridge, think twice about where things belong. If you store certain fruits, veggies, and condiments in your pantry instead, you’ll save a lot of room for the things that do need to be kept cold.
Here, a list of foods you may be refrigerating unnecessarily and how to store them instead.
According to avocado producers Love One Today, it’s best to keep avocados at room temperature until they’re fully ripened, because they may never ripen properly if you refrigerate them too soon. On the other hand, refrigerating them after they’ve ripened can extend their lifespan by a few extra days. If you’ve cut into your avocado and want to save the other half for later, sprinkle it with a little lemon juice, pop it into an airtight container, and place it in the fridge.
2. & 3. Onions and Garlic
You should never leave fresh onions or garlic in the fridge, because the cold, dry air will sap their moisture and mess with both of their textures and flavors, Travis Nordgren, a senior global produce buyer at Whole Foods Market, previously told SELF. Instead, keep them in a cool, dark spot that’s properly ventilated so that they won’t get moldy—your pantry is perfect for the job. Once you’ve sliced into them, onions and garlic should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge to prevent mold from forming too quickly.
If you’re using jarred alternatives, like minced garlic or cocktail onions, it’s best to store them as indicated on the label—most will note to refrigerate after opening, though some may not (since some combos of preservatives, salt, and vinegar can help keep these ingredients fresh sans refrigeration).
Tomatoes will lose their flavor and become soft and mushy if you store them in the fridge, Erik Brown, senior global produce coordinator at Whole Foods Market, tells SELF. He also adds that much like avocados, storing tomatoes in the fridge will prevent them from fully ripening. Plus, in my opinion, cold tomatoes are just unpleasant to eat. Think about the best, juiciest tomatoes you’ve ever eaten—they probably weren’t cold. For best results, keep your tomatoes at room temperature and out of direct sunlight and only put them in the fridge after you’ve cut them.
5. Tropical fruit
In general, Brown says that most tropical fruits can safely be stored at room temperature, because they come from warmer environments. This includes things like mangoes, pineapples, and papayas. After you’ve cut them up, though, seal them tightly in a food storage container and keep them in the fridge—their loose juices can encourage bacteria growth at higher temps.
Like avocados and tomatoes, storing bananas in the fridge will mess with the way they ripen, Brown explains. The colder temps can also make them soft and mushy, which can be great for banana bread, but definitely not ideal if you’re planning to just snack on one. It’s best to keep bananas at room temperature. However, if you do notice that they’ve started to turn brown, you don’t need to throw them away. Instead, peel them, put them in a freezer-safe food storage container or bag, and stash them in the freezer to use in smoothies.
7. Stone fruit
Fruit with a pit in the center, like apricots, nectarines, and peaches, should all be stored at room temperature, because the fridge will dehydrate them. Just make sure to keep them in a cool spot out of direct sunlight. If you’ve already sliced into them and want to store for later, put them in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.
There’s no harm in storing citrus in the fridge, but you also don’t have to. Nordgren told SELF that their thick skins prevent them from going bad early, so they will technically be fine to eat if you leave them out. But if you prefer to eat citrus cold, which I totally do, then feel free to pop them into your fridge. With this type of fruit, it really comes down to personal preference. Like other wet fruits, citrus fruits are best stored in the fridge once you’ve cut them open.
9. & 10. Uncut melons and winter squash
Thanks to their hard skins, both melon and winter squash varieties—like acorn, butternut, kabocha, and delicata—don’t need to be refrigerated until after they’ve been cut, according to Nordgren. However, if you prefer your melon cold, you might want to stick it into the fridge beforehand. (Don’t worry, the skin will protect the inside from drying out.)
If you have a bottle of oil in the fridge, take it out ASAP, because storing oil at a colder temperature will cause it to solidify and lose its flavor. On the other hand, you’ll also want to make sure you’re not storing it next to anything too hot, as heat can cause it to go rancid earlier. Instead, keep oil in a cool, dark spot in your pantry.
12. Many condiments
Condiments like ketchup or mustard are fine to store at room temperature because their high sugar, salt, and vinegar contents keep them preserved. And the same goes for a lot of other condiments, including many salad dressings, hot sauces, jams, and fermented ingredients like soy or fish sauce. If you aren’t sure about something, find out how to store all of your condiments here.