According to the Food and Drug Administration, your refrigerator should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, preferably between 35 and 38 degrees. At this temperature, any bacteria present on or in food can only develop very slowly, so keeping food this cold is a good way to prevent cooked or prepared food from spoiling for as long as possible. (Freezing food virtually stops bacterial growth, but it also significantly changes the texture of many foods).
Still, keeping some foods that cold isn't a good idea or even necessary. Cold can stop the ripening process of fruits (including the fruits we think of as veggies), and in a few cases, the temperatures in your refrigerator can break down the cell walls in fruits or vegetables, turning them mealy. Many fruits and veggies keep best when kept cool—50 to 60 degrees is ideal—and prefer warmer rather than colder conditions, if you can't provide that ideal.
Important note: The guidelines for vegetables and fruits listed below apply to whole, intact items. Once they get overripe, develop even one soft spot, or the skin is broken, they need to be eaten, cooked, or refrigerated/frozen ASAP.
Avocados ripen best at room temperature and sulk in the refrigerator. Once ripe, they need to be used promptly, as even the slightest bruise acquired during shipping will cause a fruit to spoil rapidly, even if refrigerated. Thankfully, you can even use overripe avocados to make the most out of your favorite produce.
Bananas and their less-sweet cousins, plantains, hate the cold. They will not ripen in the fridge, and the cold will turn their skins brown prematurely (though the flesh will still be fine to eat). Make use of banana peels, but remember to store them at room temperature.
This tender leafy herb will cringe and develop black spots when exposed to cold temperatures, so keep it out of the fridge and store it on the counter, with its cut ends standing in a glass or jar of fresh water.
Bread tends to get stale in the refrigerator. Keep bread that you will eat within a few days in a cool, dry place, and slice it only when you're ready to eat it. For longer storage, either dry it for breadcrumbs or slice it, place it in an airtight container, and freeze it. Remove only as much as you need at a time, and thaw it slowly and completely before eating or toasting to enjoy optimal flavor and texture.
The high moisture levels in most refrigerators can play havoc with your morning brew fixings. Store small quantities of whole beans (best) or ground coffee in airtight containers in a cool, dry, dark spot to retain maximum flavor and freshness.
If you have a good, local source for coffee, buy only as much as you can use in a week or two. If not, freeze what won't be used within a few days in airtight containers, removing only a week's worth at a time as needed. (And please be sure your coffee isn't harboring mold!)
These heat-loving fruits store well at room temperature.
Store honey, tightly covered, in a cool, dry place. Most honey will crystallize over time, and refrigeration seems to speed the process (re-liquify grainy or solidified honey by setting the jar in a pot of hot water until it melts). Honey's color or flavor may change gradually as it ages, but that's OK. (Be sure your honey is ACTUALLY honey.)
Keep whole melons, including watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew, on your counter for best flavor and to help preserve their antioxidants.
Onions, shallots, and garlic hate refrigerators—the high humidity tends to make them soft or rubbery and encourages them to sprout and/or mold. Find a cool, dark, dry place for them.
Peppers, especially ripe or ripening (red, orange, yellow) ones, will stop ripening when refrigerated, cheating you of the extra goodness. Just leave them on the counter or in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place. (Make sure your veggies aren't among the most pesticide-laden on the planet!)
Chances are good that if it grows in the tropics, it will store best at room temperature.
Temperatures below about 45 degrees Fahrenheit will make potatoes turn unpleasantly sweet and gritty; if they are roasted or fried they will contain significantly more acrylamide than potatoes stored at warmer temps, so keep them out of the refrigerator. Store them in a dark place so they won't turn green; they need high humidity to stay firm and plump, so a plastic bag inside a paper bag is a good option.
These heat-loving veggies may develop discolored patches when stored in the fridge. Keep them in a cool place and, as they need reasonably high humidity to stay firm and plump, inside a plastic bag or some sort of a container.
Tomatoes get sad and mealy in the refrigerator. Please don't torture the lovely things by putting them there. Keep them on the counter or in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place.
These tomato cousins don't like the fridge, either. Leave them in their little papery husks and they will keep for an astonishingly long time in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place.
Squash and pumpkins last the longest in a dry, cool, well-ventilated place and do not need to be refrigerated.
Now, for the 25 foods you can put in the refrigerator, but don't have to! In general, if your local supermarket doesn't display a food in a cooler case, you can store it at room temperature when you get it home.
Fresh apples and pears store well for a couple of weeks (and look pretty) on your counter. If you won't be eating them in that time, they might last a little bit longer in the fridge. Quinces can stay at room temperature.
Green beans, especially the tiny haricot beans (as well as other types of snap and fresh shelled beans) can suffer cold damage in the chilly depth of the fridge and will last longer in a cool place. But if it's very hot in your house and there is no cool place available, you may want to store them in the warmest part of the refrigerator if you can't eat them right away.
In most countries, eggs are sold and stored at room temperature. Fresh, clean eggs from your own hens or a local farmer will keep safely on your counter for a week or two. In fact, keeping fresh eggs at room temperature for a few days before cooking will make them much easier to peel when hard-boiled. Dirty or cracked eggs should be refrigerated and used as soon as possible. Once eggs have been refrigerated, they should be kept refrigerated until you are ready to use them.
Grapes will last for a few days on the counter; for longer storage, or if they are very ripe, they will last longer in the refrigerator.
According to Maine Maple Producers Association, maple can be refrigerated or kept in a cool, dry place after the seal is broken. Properly prepared maple syrup will not freeze, making the freezer an ideal long-term storage place.
Like maple syrup, other liquids that are primarily made up of sugars don't need to be refrigerated because most spoilage microorganisms can't grow when the sugar concentration is very high. High-sugar jams and jellies are quite resistant to spoilage as well, and can stay safely at room temperature for days, though they will last longer in the refrigerator.
Important Note: Low-sugar and artificially sweetened products need to be refrigerated.
This heat-loving veggie (and cravings-crushing food) can get brown spots if it gets too cold. Store it in a cool place unless your house is very hot, in which case you may store it in the refrigerator.
Oils may or may not be hurt—or helped—by refrigeration. It all depends on how delicate they are, how warm your house is, and who you talk to. The issue is flavor versus shelf life. Purists say refrigeration causes condensation to form on the inside of the container, which may harm the flavor of a very delicately flavored oil.
Oil may also become cloudy and slightly solid in cold temps, and while it will liquify when returned to room temperature, repeated solidifying and melting may change the flavor. On the other end of the debate is how fast the oil will become rancid (definitely harming the flavor and nutrition) at room temperature. Most oils will eventually go rancid—especially at very warm room temperatures. In general, buy small amounts of oils, especially the most finely flavored or costly ones, from a store that has a rapid turnover. Store them in a cool, dark place, and use them promptly. In very hot or humid conditions, store oils in the refrigerator.
Important Note: Any fresh herbs or vegetables packed in oil should always be refrigerated, as the oil seals the air away from the moist material, creating the perfect conditions for cultivating botulism.
Citrus fruit stores well for a couple of weeks on your counter, or a bit longer in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place.
Allow peaches, apricots, nectarines, and plums to ripen at room temperature. Once they are soft and ripe, you can hold them in the fruit bin of the refrigerator for a few days.
Salt prevents the growth of food spoilage organisms, so there is no need to refrigerate salty condiments.
Because of their natural acidity, which inhibits the growth of food-spoilage organisms, these products can be safely kept at room temperature. Still, it won't hurt them to be refrigerated.