The Latest in Fitness, Nutrition, Recipe and Lifestyle News

« Home |

13 Foods You’re Storing Wrong

Written by Johnnie Duffy

Share to

Broccoli, peanut butter, eggs — find out whether you’re keeping these and other key health food staples in their freshest state.

Food is medicine, and like medicine, how you store it matters. Most of us think we have a handle on how to put away our groceries, but it’s probably time for a refresher. That’s because storing your food properly can help prevent food illness and save money on food waste by making things last longer — which is imperative as the cost of food skyrockets, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicts will continue.

“Storing your grocery store haul properly, whether it’s in your pantry, refrigerator, or freezer, can make a difference in saving your hard-earned money, reducing food waste, and keeping you and your family safe,” says Christine Palumbo, RDN, a nutrition consultant from Naperville, Illinois.

BREAKING: Doctors Can't Believe She Used This To Erase Her Wrinkles...

The way you store your food may help you eat healthier, too. “Healthy foods, such as whole grains, nuts, and produce, may lose some of their nutritional value if stored improperly or too long,” says Palumbo. The Oldways Whole Grains Council confirms that whole grains must be stored more carefully than refined (also known as heavily processed) grains.

Also, as you know, eating spoiled food can make you sick. “When food is stored incorrectly, harmful bacteria, such as salmonella and E. coli, can multiply and cause food poisoning,” says Maggie Michalczyk, RDN, founder of Once Upon a Pumpkin, who is based in Chicago. ”Proper storage conditions inhibit the growth of these pathogens, reducing the risk of illness.” Warmer weather and keeping foods unrefrigerated for long periods, such as during parties and holiday gatherings, creates the perfect environment for salmonella to grow, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Before you even go to the grocery store, though, you’ll want to do a basic clean-out of your refrigerator, says Palumbo. “This way you can consume any foods that need to be eaten up, toss anything that’s clearly gone bad, and do a quick wipe down of your fridge shelves to ready them for your grocery haul,” she says.

Once your fridge is ready, discover how to store some of the most common foods you probably stock up on, so you can help your food (and your money) last longer, as well as avoid a trip to the clinic.

1. Broccoli

There are a lot of reasons to love broccoli — it is an excellent source of an array of vitamins and minerals, per the USDA, including vitamin C and vitamin K. But this cruciferous vegetable likes it cold. Research published in May 2019 in the journal Foods also notes that broccoli’s quality decreases once it’s harvested, but storing it at a lower temperature may slow the process.

Ideally, you would store broccoli in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer, where it not only stays cool, but has the right humidity and air circulation to slow down its deterioration, says Palumbo. You want to avoid keeping it in a plastic bag, which traps humidity, according to the South Dakota Department of Health. In spite of these precautions, though, you’ll want to eat broccoli as soon as you can. “Broccoli should be consumed as soon as possible after purchase for maximum nutrients and taste,” says Palumbo. (It will last three to five days in the fridge.) “As it lingers in your crisper drawer, it tends to lose potency and takes on a strong taste and smell,” Palumbo adds.

2. Eggs

Does your refrigerator door have a nifty egg rack for you to place your eggs? While it may be convenient, it’s typically not advised to actually keep them there. According to the USDA, perishable items like eggs should not be kept in the door, but rather on an interior shelf (in the coldest part of your refrigerator). That’s because fluctuating temperatures caused by opening and closing your door may cause your eggs to go bad faster.

Why refrigerate eggs at all? “In the United States, eggs are washed at a processing plant, which removes the natural coating that helps keep water in and bacteria like salmonella out,” says Palumbo. European producers believe that as long as the egg’s natural membrane remains intact, refrigeration is not necessary, which is why eggs aren’t typically refrigerated in European countries. But a study that compared the two storage techniques found that egg washing and refrigeration was more effective at keeping eggs fresh longer, according to the USDA. So even if you’re buying direct from a farm or farmers market, it’s still best to err on the side of caution and refrigerate your eggs, according to the Louisiana State University Agriculture Center.

3. Bananas

Most people toss their bananas on the counter and call it a day, but complain how fast they ripen (bananas did rank as the No. 1 most wasted food at supermarkets in a study done at a Swedish University). This is in part due to ethylene gas. According to Britannica, bananas produce ethylene gas that can speed up the ripening process. Banana hangers help with this to a degree (note that hanging them slows down the gas-releasing process), and Chiquita suggests that separating each banana from the bunch may also slow down their ripening.

But if you want your bananas to last (so that you don’t have to toss a few) your best bet is to refrigerate these fruits. “While it’s best to store them on the counter at room temperature — and where you can see them — once the starches start turning to sugars and they get soft, it’s perfectly all right to place them in the fridge to slow down the ripening process,” says Palumbo. Storing ripe bananas in the refrigerator can extend the flavor one additional week, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health notes. Unfortunately, popping them in the fridge can make their skin turn brown or black — but the fruit inside will still be intact, explains Palumbo.

Placement in the fridge matters, too. You shouldn’t store bananas and apples next to each other because the ethylene gas both fruits produce can speed ripening of both, according to the University of California San Diego Center for Community Health. You’ll also want to keep bananas away from ethylene-producing avocados, cantaloupe, kiwis, peaches, pears, peppers, and tomatoes.

Not ready to eat them yet? “Peel the ripe bananas, wrap in wax paper and place in the freezer for a future smoothie,” suggests Palumbo.

4. Onions

Ever hear of an onion cellar? These spaces used to exist to lengthen the lifespan of these all-important ingredients. While most homes today are not equipped with one, onions should be kept out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources (like a stovetop), according to the National Onion Association. That can mean a countertop as long as it’s not by a window or stovetop or other what source. With proper storage, onions can last for up to 60 days in the spring and summer and up to 180 days in the fall or winter.

Before storing them in a cool, dry place, Michigan State University suggests cutting off the dry top to within one to three inches of the bulb, getting rid of any loose dirt, and trimming the roots. You’ll also want to avoid storing onions near other produce that is sensitive to ethylene gas, since onions emit that and it hastens the ripening process, says Palumbo.

5. Potatoes

If you’re storing spuds in the refrigerator, you’re doing it wrong. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that keeping potatoes in the refrigerator can increase the acrylamide, a chemical that can form during high-temperature cooking and may be harmful to humans. Consumer Reports suggests keeping them in a paper bag in a pantry, cupboard, or similar cool, dry place.


One important note, however: Although potatoes favor similar conditions to onions, they shouldn't be stored together. The high moisture content of potatoes can increase the humidity in your pantry, and cause onions to become leaky, says Palumbo. And no one wants mushy onions!

If stored properly, potatoes can keep for several months (although the variety known as “new potatoes” will last for only a few weeks), according to the USDA. They’re also perfectly okay to eat even if they start sprouting, Consumer Reports notes, as long as they remain firm to the touch. Just remove the sprouts or “eyes” before cooking and consuming them.

6. Maple Syrup

While a lot of people consider this natural sweetener a pantry item, it should be stored in the refrigerator once opened, according to the USDA. This may come as a surprise to people who have heard that honey never spoils, and can be confusing because imitation maple syrups, sometimes called pancake syrups, can safely be stored at room temperature even after opening.

Because real maple syrup is a natural product, lacking preservatives, it can spoil or grow mold if not properly stored, according to Massachusetts Maple Producers Association. Additionally, Michalczyk says, “Exposure to light and heat can degrade real maple syrup's flavor and texture,” which is why storing it in the refrigerator is so important. Under current regulations, manufacturers can use terms like “maple,” “maple-flavored,” or “artificially maple-flavored” on the labels of products that don’t contain actual maple syrup, only maple flavor, according to the FDA. To ensure a product contains the real deal, scan the ingredients list for “maple syrup” or the words “made with 100 percent maple syrup.”

7. Nuts

Regardless of which nut you eat, they are part of a healthy diet that can help lower cholesterol, among other benefits, reports Mayo Clinic. But while they have a reputation as a hardy, on-the-go snack, they are not necessarily shelf-stable for long periods. The reason? “Nuts contain a lot of unsaturated oil and can go rancid if not eaten within a few months,” says Palumbo. So, don’t keep your whole nut stash in your pantry, like some people may do. “If you purchase a large container at a club store, consider keeping a small amount out for eating and freeze the rest,” she says.

This is especially important for walnuts, which contain primarily polyunsaturated fatty acids, according to USDA data. Those type of fats — the same ones that confer health benefits — can oxidize rather quickly at room temperature.

If you plan to eat, for example, walnuts right away, store them in the refrigerator in their original, unopened packaging or an airtight container, suggests California Walnuts. If you don’t plan on eating them in a month or longer, store them in airtight containers in the freezer.

8. Nut Butter

Storing nut butters in the pantry makes them easier to spread, but it may not be ideal from a longevity standpoint, particularly when it comes to natural nut butters (the kind most dietitians prefer, because of the lack of added sugar and salt).

As with their base product, nuts, the high fat content of nut butters makes them susceptible to going rancid, particularly in high temperatures, notes Food & WineThis is especially true of natural nut butters, which lack preservatives and stabilizers. Past research found that the temperature at which it was stored had the most significant effect on the quality of natural peanut butter, and jars stored at around 50 degrees F had comparable quality to commercial PB for between 8 and 12 weeks. That timeline fell to just four weeks when the peanut butter was stored at temperatures of 77 to 95 degrees F.

Once opened, a jar of natural peanut butter will last up to four months in the refrigerator, according to Refrigeration may also prevent the separation of oils in natural nut butters that occurs over time, says Michalczyk.

9. Whole Grains

Eating a diet rich in whole grains is associated with a lower risk of many chronic health issues, reports the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts. But many people aren’t doing themselves a favor by filling their pantry with bags of brown rice, farro, quinoa, and wheat germ.

“Whole grains should be refrigerated or frozen unless they’re eaten promptly,” says Palumbo. The Whole Grains Council explains that one of the reasons these grains (really edible seeds of plants) are so good for us is because they contain healthy fats, fiber, and other nutrients that are stripped away in refined grains like white flour and rice. But those fats, like all fats, can be negatively affected by heat, light, and moisture.

Keeping whole grains in the refrigerator or freezer helps prevent those fats from turning rancid. This is more important when a whole grain has been milled into flour or otherwise processed like oatmeal, points out Bob’s Red Mill. The brand recommends freezing any whole grains you use less than once a month, as well as wheat germ.

10. Butter

There’s a craze right now to leave butter at room temperature on the counter, but maximum spreadability probably is not worth the potential health repercussions. Butter, like other fats, can go rancid at high temperatures, according to the Food Network. Instead, when you bring home your butter from the grocery store, make sure to keep it wrapped in its original packaging or transfer it to an airtight container to prevent absorption of odors from other foods, and pop it in the refrigerator, suggests Michalczyk. “Once opened, you can continue storing butter in the refrigerator, and for convenience, you may consider using a butter dish with a lid to keep it covered and protected,” says Michalczyk. If you prefer a spreadable consistency, Michalczyk says you can leave a small portion at room temperature in a covered butter dish for short-term use. (The USDA suggests butter left out a day or two is okay.) But any longer than that you’ll want to keep it in the fridge.

How long does butter last in the refrigerator? Use the expiration date printed on the label as a guide, but it can last at least a month in the refrigerator before losing freshness and becoming rancid. (You can also freeze your butter to preserve it longer — up to a year, they say.)

11. Coffee Beans

Like other kinds of beans, those used to brew java contain fats or oils, which tend to go rancid at high temperatures. For those reasons, coffee connoisseurs have long been given the advice to store their beans in the freezer for maximum freshness. But surprise, that’s not necessary, according to the National Coffee Association (NCA).

While heat and light can degrade coffee’s flavor — indeed, the beans begin to lose freshness as soon as they are roasted — freezing beans can also affect the moisture content of beans if they are not sealed in an airtight container, which may be just as detrimental, the NCA reports.

A dark, cool, and airtight container is recommended. Ideally, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recommends that you store your coffee in a cool dark cabinet, and rather than keeping it in its original packaging, placing it in an opaque, air-tight container to preserve its flavor.

12. Milk

TRENDING: This Keeps Your Blood Sugar Below 100 - Even When You're Eating Sweets!

Do you always keep your carton of milk stored in the door? You’ll probably want to rethink the habit. “I’ve seen recommendations to store milk on an interior shelf and not in the door due to temperature fluctuations with the door being opened and closed often,” says Palumbo. According to the USDA, perishable foods, including milk, should not be stored in the doors, because the temperature there is not as stable as on the shelves, which can cause the milk to spoil.

If you find yourself unable to finish a carton before it starts to smell sour, you may want to switch to organic milk. It is pricier, but because it undergoes a process known as ultra-pasteurization, it lasts much longer than conventional cow’s milk, according to the Mississippi State University Extension.

13. Kimchi

People might think that because kimchi is fermented naturally, it’s totally fine to store it at room temperature on the counter, according to The Takeout. But from a food safety standpoint, you won’t want to get into this practice. So, as soon as you buy your kimchi (or after you make it), place it right in the refrigerator. “Kimchi is best stored in the refrigerator, even if it hasn't been opened yet; the cold temperature slows down the fermentation process and helps maintain its tangy flavor,” says Michalczyk. As for how exactly to store it? “When storing kimchi, place it in an airtight container, like a glass jar or airtight plastic container, to prevent any odor transfer to other foods,” Michalczyk suggests. Follow the “expiration date” instructions on the label, and according to Colorado State University, pay attention to whether mold develops on the surface, which is (of course!) a sign that it has gone bad.

Share to



Like Us on Facebook?