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Storing food: what to separate and what to refrigerate

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Working out where to store your groceries is about more than finding space in your fridge or pantry cupboards. If you want to get the best out of your fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as other produce, you need to consider several factors. The first is to see if there is a ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date. These terms have specific meanings based on Food Standards Australia and New Zealand:

Use by (sometimes ‘expiry date’)
“Foods that must be eaten before a certain time for health or safety reasons should be marked with a use by date. Foods should not be eaten after the use by date and can’t legally be sold after this date because they may pose a health or safety risk.”

Best Before
“Most foods have a best before date. You can still eat foods for a while after the best before date as they should be safe but they may have lost some quality. Foods that have a best before date can legally be sold after that date provided the food is fit for human consumption.”

Some produce, like canned goods, do not have to provide this information if they have a shelf life of more than 2 years. This is because in most cases they will be consumed well before any possible expiry date, but also it is difficult to estimate how long they will keep prior to opening, depending on your home storage conditions.

Modern fridges are designed with special areas for storing fruit and vegetables. These are usually drawers with specific micro-climate zones, which have a higher humidity level compared to the rest of the refrigerator. This is important because to ensure the quality of your fruit and vegetables, and extend their shelf life for as long as possible, specific conditions are required. Not all fruits and vegetables require the same levels of humidity, some can be damaged by the cold, and others should not be refrigerated at all. Further complicating things, some fruit can be refrigerated in the later stages of its ripening cycle to keep it edible for longer.

Storage requirements are due to fruit and vegetables not ripening at the same rate. As consumer group Choice explain, deciding on what to store, and where, is ‘all about ethylene’. Fruit and vegetables release the naturally created ethylene, which regulates how fast they ripen. However, they do not all produce the same levels, thus storing the wrong fruit or vegetables together can cause premature ripening. A great example of this is bananas. Bananas create a high level of ethylene and as a result, if stored with other fruits they will cause them to ripen prematurely.

To help you work out what fruit and vegetables you can store together, and which ones need to be separated, Choice have produced a quick guide that you may find useful. They also point out that it is important to ensure there is room for air to circulate around your fruit and vegetables when stored in a fridge. If they are too tightly packed together it will affect the temperature and humidity, which will affect the rate of ripening, and may encourage the growth of mould.

In addition to knowing which fruit and vegetables to store separately and where, basic maintenance of your fridge is important. Ensuring door seals are functioning means the doors will close properly, keeping your fridge functioning at its best, and reduce the cost of running it. Doors that do not seal properly mean refrigerated air escapes, so your fridge is essentially trying to cool not just itself but an entire room – and this will increase your electricity bill.

What goes in the fridge?

In general, the CSIRO advises that you refrigerate “perishable food”, which includes “fruits and vegetables, fresh meat, foods purchased from chill cabinets [and], freshly cooked food stored to be used later.” Their website also provides an exceptionally useful table with “information on the storage life of some chilled food in the coldest part of a refrigerator”, which includes information on different produce groupings (like dairy products, meats, etc.), and how to best store them. While some produce, including selected fruit and vegetables, will keep for longer if refrigerated, there are those that are should not be refrigerated at all, as they will be damaged by the cold.  A quick search online can reveal a confusing amount of information on what to store in the fridge, revealing differing opinions on the matter. To help, we have put together a list of some of the most common produce and advice on storage and refrigeration.

ProduceDo not refrigerateStore on counterStore in cool, dry, dark, cupboard or containerRefrigerate
Apples+ XX  
Apricots+ XX  
Avocados+ XX  
BananasXX  
Berries (Blueberries, Blackberries, Strawberries, Boysenberries, Raspberries, Loganberries)XX X*
Bread  X 
Capsicum+ XX  
CoconutsXXX 
CoffeeX X 
Cordials  XX*****
EggsX X 
GarlicX X 
Guava+ XX  
HoneyX X 
Hot SauceX X 
JamX X** 
Lemons+ XX  
Limes+ XX  
Lychees+ XX  
Mangoes+ XX  
Melons+ XX  
NutsX X 
Onions+ X X 
Oranges+ XX  
Papaya+ XX  
Passion fruitXX***  
Pears+ XX  
Peaches+ XX  
PicklesX X** 
Pineapple+ XX  
Plums+ XX  
Pomegranates+ XX  
PotatoesX X 
RelishesX X** 
Sweet PotatoesX X 
SquashX X 
TomatoesXX  
Vegetables (other)   X****

Some extra information

+ Most fruit does not need refrigeration, however, once it is ripe, or once you have cut it up (broken its skin) you can store it in the fridge to keep them edible for a few more days. Storing most fruit in a fridge before they are ripe will normally delay the ripening process.

* Berries can be refrigerated, but most advice will be to store them on the counter and eat them as soon as ripe (how to wash berries to keep them for longer)

** Jams, Pickles and Relishes do not need to be stored in the fridge, however you can do so if you want to.

*** Passion fruit, once ripe, can be stored in the fridge in a plastic bag up to 1 week

**** Most other vegetables can, and should be stored in the refrigerator. To improve their storage life, you should remove any ties or rubber bands and trim any leafy ends (e.g. green tops of carrots). Vegetables should be stored in either containers with ventilation, or in bags with some holes in them for air flow. For leafy greens, you can wash them before storing, but don’t wash herbs and mushrooms until right before they are used.

***** Cordial will store for about a year in a cupboard, but should be refrigerated after opening.

Note: information on the storage requirements for specific fruit and vegetables has been collated from the followings sources: Choice, CSIRO, Kitchn, The Food Network, and Good Food.

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