It seems like second nature: Stuff something in the fridge and it'll last longer, right? Not quite. While your intentions may be good, storing certain foods in the refrigerator can spoil their flavor and texture.
The next time you're tempted to fill up your crisper drawers, refer to this guide to help your groceries last longer and taste better. These are the 10 foods that should not be refrigerated, and the best ways to keep them fresh instead.
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Note that once you cut fruits and veggies, they should be refrigerated in clean, covered containers at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, per the University of Connecticut Extension.
When tomatoes are exposed to cool air, their chemical makeup changes. This can cause a less vibrant flavor — and a less enjoyable addition to your favorite lunch salad.
"Tomatoes are best-stored on your counter because storing them in the refrigerator will accelerate chemical pathways that cause the flavor of the tomato to dull," says Kasey Hageman, RD, LD. "If they're underripe, you can store them on your windowsill to ripen them."
Temperatures below 53.6 degrees reduce levels of volatile compounds (the chemicals responsible for aroma and taste) in tomatoes, per an October 2016 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
Whole, unpeeled, raw onions should not be stored in the refrigerator: This is a case where storing produce in the refrigerator may actually cause it to go bad sooner.
"When exposed to cool temperatures, the starches in onions are converted to sugars, resulting in the onions becoming mushy or soggy faster," says Jamie McDermott, RDN, LD. "Ideally, they should be stored in a cool, dry location away from light, such as a cupboard or drawer."
You'll get even more nutrition from whole, uncut melons when you store them on the countertop. "The cold air from the refrigerator can stunt their antioxidant growth," says Jessica Shapiro, CDN, CDCES, associate wellness and nutrition manager at Montefiore Medical Center.
In a widely-cited July 2006 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers studied watermelon stored for 14 days at three different temperatures: 70 degrees Fahrenheit (room temperature), 55 degrees Fahrenheit and 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Levels of the antioxidant lycopene levels increased up to 40 percent and beta-carotene levels increased up to 139 percent in watermelon kept at room temperature.
"Beta-carotene and lycopene are powerful antioxidants linked to numerous health benefits such as cancer prevention and skin health," McDermott says. These antioxidant levels didn't show a significant change when watermelons were stored at cooler temperatures.
Your favorite coffee, whether or not it's ground, should be kept out of the fridge for the best flavor.
"Humidity in the fridge can cause condensation to build up, which is not good for the flavor of ground or whole-bean coffee," Hageman says. "Coffee should be stored in your pantry for the best flavor."
Once cut, herbs like basil are best kept at room temperature.
"Refrigerating cut basil will cause the fragile leaves to darken and discolor," McDermott says. "The reaction that occurs, which is called oxidation, is what turns fruits and vegetables brown. An enzyme called polyphenol oxidase contained in the cells is exposed to and reacts with oxygen in the air."
For best storage, place the basil stems in a tall jar filled with water and keep out of the sun.
As with tomatoes, the chemical makeup of potatoes is actually altered when they're placed in the refrigerator.
"The cold temperatures convert starch into sugar," Shapiro says. "Not only is it going to produce a texture change, so it becomes grittier, but it's going to make those potatoes a little worse for someone who is trying to be mindful of their blood sugar. A smaller portion could cause a higher spike in blood sugar."
Storing potatoes in the refrigerator can also lead to the formation of a potentially dangerous chemical when cooked.
"The breakdown of sugars in the potatoes can lead to the formation of a chemical called acrylamide when they are cooked at high temperatures," McDermott says. "Acrylamide has been shown to be carcinogenic in animal studies, and there is some concern that at high levels, it could have the same effect in humans."
Ever notice that your refrigerated cucumbers look less than desirable after a few days? That occurs because of damage from the cold air.
"Refrigerating cucumbers for longer than three days can lead to 'cold injury' due to their high water content," McDermott says. "This can lead to bruising, water-soaked areas and spoilage."
In their whole form, cucumbers are best stored at room temperature in a well-ventilated area, she says.
If you accidentally stash nutritious bananas in your fridge while unpacking groceries, prepare for an unpleasant sight — but don't toss them. "Bananas will turn brown in the refrigerator, but they'll still taste fine," Shapiro says.
Bananas release a gas that naturally ripens other fruit, so be mindful of where you store them.
"Whether it's inside or outside of the refrigerator, you want to keep bananas away from other fruit unless you want that fruit to be ripened more quickly," Shapiro adds.
It's understandable if you can't get through an entire loaf of bread in a few days, but think about how much you'll eat so you can plan ahead with the best storage strategies.
"Bread with natural ingredients can start to mold in a few days on the counter, but putting it in the refrigerator dries out the bread," Shapiro says. "So really, if you have more bread than you're going to eat in a couple of days, you should put it in the freezer."
Take out a few pieces every few days as you need, and store the bread at room temperature in a bread box, she adds.
Normally planted in the fall, garlic prefers cold weather and therefore sprouts at a more rapid rate when stored in a cold environment, McDermott says.
"Fresh, whole garlic bulbs will last months when stored between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but typically only a few weeks when refrigerated," McDermott says. "If you plan to use your garlic over time, ensure that it is as fresh as possible at the time of purchase by looking for firm cloves, no sprouting and no black spots."
Store your garlic in a ventilated space such as a mesh bag and away from warm areas of the kitchen like stoves or sunny windows.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America: "Chilling-induced tomato flavor loss is associated with altered volatile synthesis and transient changes in DNA methylation"
- University of Connecticut Extension: "Keeping Farm Fresh Veggies and Fruits Fresh"
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "Carotenoid Changes of Intact Watermelons after Storage"