You’ve Been Storing Your Food All Wrong!

People are always asking on food forums, “Should I store this in the fridge?” More specifically, people ask questions like, “Should I store tomatoes in the fridge?” or “Should I store onions in the fridge?” People may also ask questions like, “Are frozen fruits as nutritious as fresh fruit?” 

While the questions above, and others along the same vein, often generate animated debates, one factor that is often overlooked is whether or not storing foods in the fridge lowers their health benefits. As a general rule, the answer is almost always yes, at least to some degree.

That’s why we compiled a list of foods that should not be stored in the fridge, plus wanted to share great tips and tricks on how to extend your fruits and vegetables shelf life.

So let’s start with fruits. One of the most essential factors for fruits is whether or not they ripen after they are picked. This is because fruits are at their most nutritious when they are at their peak of ripeness. Therefore, if you refrigerate fruits that ripen after being picked before they have fully ripened, the lower temperature will prevent them from ripening and they will not be as nutritious.

Fruits That Ripen After They Are Picked:

  • Bananas
  • Cantaloupe
  • Honeydews
  • Persimmons
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Plums
  • Mangos
  • Avocados
  • Tomatoes

Fruits That Do Not Ripen After They Are Picked:

  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Tangerines
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Watermelons
  • Grapes
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Strawberries

Even fruits that do not ripen after they are picked will lose some of their antioxidant, mineral, and vitamin content, not to mention taste, if refrigerated. For example, watermelon will lose some of its lycopene, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA). This is also true for the lycopene found in tomatoes. It is actually better to freeze fruits than put them into the refrigerator since they will retain more of their nutrients and taste over putting them in the refrigerator. You can wait until they ripen to do so for maximum health benefit.

You should also remember that once you cut vegetables or fruits, their inner flesh is exposed to oxygen which causes oxidation which in turn cause them to quickly lose nutrients. According to the USDA, most cut fruits will lose up to 25% of their vitamin C and carotenoids within 6 days. This is one of the main reasons it is best to buy unrefrigerated fruits and vegetables and cut only as much as you are going to use that day. If you want to cut up more for handy snacks, you will need to refrigerate them or they will spoil. However, for maximum nutrition, you’ll need to consume them as soon as possible.

Some fruits seem to spoil faster than others because they have delicate skins. These include berries like blueberries and strawberries. However, these are still foods that you don’t need to store in the fridge, and in fact, they’ll offer maximum nutrition if you don’t. They’ll also taste much better if you don’t refrigerate them. There are some tricks that will prolong their life outside the fridge. First, do not wash them until just before you eat them. Second, select fruit that has no noticeable breaks in the skin. Third, as soon as you get the fruit home, pick out any berries (or other fruit) that appear to have the skin broken. One broken berry will cause the others to decay much faster.

Some vegetables keep better out of the refrigerator in a well ventilated dark area. These include onion, garlic, shallots, and potatoes. Be sure not to peel onions, shallots, and garlic because their outer layers protect them from spoiling. Also, be sure not to wash potatoes until right before you use them or they will spoil faster. As an important side note, since potatoes put off moisture, if they are stored right next to onions, they can cause onions to spoil. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep them on a separate shelf in your pantry or cabinets. Keep in mind too that if you store potatoes in the fridge, their starches will convert to sugars and this will make them taste funny and have an unusual and undesirable texture.

Another issue to consider when deciding whether or not to store food in the fridge is texture. Some foods break down when cold and lose their best texture. Tomatoes are a prime example of this. They will become mushy and mealy if refrigerated. The same is true for persimmons and stone fruits like nectarines and plums. Refrigeration also dries out some foods. Bread will quickly turn brick hard in the fridge, especially fresh baked bread without all the preservatives added. Citrus fruit will also dry out and lose that delicious burst of flavor in your mouth.

In conclusion, it is always best to store food outside the refrigerator whenever possible to do so without spoilage. This will maximize their nutritional properties and retain maximum flavor.

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