How Did All This Stuff Get in My Fridge?
If you return home from the grocery store and reflexively place everything you bought in your refrigerator, you may be surprised to learn that some of those items don't belong there.
Generally, items that are meant to be spread or poured do not require refrigeration; neither do many fruits, vegetables, or fats like butter. But some foods are harder to classify.
1. Ketchup is one of the most popular condiments in the nation, served with everything from scrambled eggs and steak to pizza, french fries, onion rings, and chicken tenders. We tend to store opened bottles of ketchup in the refrigerator.
Yet in many eateries, the ketchup bottle is left out on tables, alongside the salt, pepper, and sugar—and this is acceptable because of ketchup's acidity. Acidity (as measured on the pH scale) is one of the six factors that contribute to the growth of bacteria in food. Most harmful bacteria require a neutral to a mildly acidic environment, with a pH level of 4.5 or higher. Because of its acidic ingredients (tomatoes and vinegar), ketchup has a pH between 3.5 and 3.9.
Conclusion: Keep your ketchup in the cupboard, not the fridge.
2. Peanut butter should be spreadable; if kept in the fridge, it can harden like cement.
But while high protein foods like meat, eggs, milk, and peanut butter are targets for the bacteria that can make us sick (protein is another of the six factors that contribute to bacteria growth in food), peanut butter has a low aw (around 0.70, even lower than syrup). Bacteria aren't going to grow in it.
Peanut butter can sometimes go rancid—particularly the natural kinds— especially when exposed to heat, light, and oxygen. But store it in the cupboard, far away from the stove–with the lid on tight and the cupboard doors shut–and it will be safe.
Conclusion: Keep your peanut butter in the cupboard, not the fridge.
3. Honey. Refrigerated honey will harden into an amber-like consistency that makes it impossible to squeeze out of a bottle. Moreover, refrigerating honey is totally unnecessary. Archaeologists in Egypt have found 3,000-year-old pots of honey that is unspoiled (thanks to acidity and absence of water), making it the most shelf-stable food in the history of the planet.
Conclusion: Keep honey in the cupboard.
4. Bread and other baked goods (like cakes and cookies) are not prone to bacterial spoilage but they do go stale. It happens to all baked goods, but the process is much more rapid in the refrigerator as the cold accelerates the re-crystallization of the starches. Freezing, on the other hand, halts the process.
Conclusion: Store bread and baked goods in airtight bags or containers at room temperature if you'll use them within a week or in the freezer for longer storage.
5. (Most) Oils. Store oils away from heat to prevent rancidity.
Oils go rancid when they're exposed to oxygen, light, and heat. So while you shouldn't store cooking oils near an oven, refrigerating them isn't necessary. In some cases, they will cloud or even harden in the fridge.
Conclusion: Keep cooking oils tightly sealed in a cool dark cupboard and use them within three months. Exceptions: Nut oils like walnut and hazelnut oils are particularly prone to rancidity, so refrigerating them is not a bad idea.
6. Tomatoes. Chilling does two things to tomatoes: It halts the enzymatic process that produces the chemical compounds that give a tomato its flavor, and it damages the cell walls of the tomato, giving it a grainy, mealy texture.
Conclusion: Store unripe tomatoes at room temperature. As for ripe ones, don't store them, eat them!.
7. Chocolate. While bar chocolate should not get too warm, it's fine to store it between 65 and 70 F, provided you keep it away from direct sunlight and tightly sealed to protect it from moisture. The refrigerator causes condensation to form on the surface of the chocolate, which in turn will cause the sugar to bloom, producing white blotchy patches on the surface.
Conclusion: Store bar chocolate at room temperature, tightly sealed.
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