It goes without saying that most dairy items, especially fresh milk, should be kept refrigerated, usually at an average temperature below 4°C. While most us automatically store milk in the fridge door, current guidelines suggest keeping all your dairy products on a lower or middle shelf — because, unlike the fridge door, the temperature is more steady and consistent. If you’re buying plant-based milk, this often doesn’t need to be refrigerated at all until opened, and usually should not kept longer than seven days thereafter. Finally, if you’re in the position of pumping and storing breast milk, NHD guidelines advise using a sterilised container, and only keeping it in the fridge for up to eight days at 4°C or lower. If you are not sure of the temperature of your fridge, try to use it within three days. To avoid waste, it can be stored in the freezer for up to six months, if the temperature is -18°C or lower.
In America, it’s common to find eggs stored in the fridge to keep them fresh, but in Europe this is less common. According to the British Egg Information Service, eggs should be kept at a constant temperature below 20°C – but it’s a largely personal choice whether that means in or out of the fridge – especially if you live in a cooler climate most of the time. One thing’s for sure, however, keeping eggs in the fridge keeps the temperature as consistent as possible, which will help extend their shelf life. Again, try to keep them on a middle shelf to avoid temperature fluctuations. It might be surprising, but the NHS says eggs can be frozen. Simply crack the egg and separate yolks and whites into separate plastic containers or food bags before freezing, or crack the egg into a plastic tub and beat it before freezing – great for omelettes and scrambled eggs. For eggs that have been hard-boiled, they can be refrigerated up to one week, while hard boiled eggs which have been peeled should be stored in the fridge in a bowl of cold water for about one week too – just be sure to change the water daily.
Yoghurt should be kept in the fridge to keep it safe, but experts advise storing it towards the back, where it’s coolest, to extend its life. If you’re one of those people who like to dip in and out of larger tubs, now is the time to err on the side of caution, and deposit a small amount in a bowl before eating. Always make sure the yoghurt has a tight, replaceable lid if you don’t intend on eating all of it in one sitting. If, it doesn’t come with one, decant into a Tupperware. Finally, it is safe to freeze yoghurt if you want to cut down on waste, but the texture is likely to change dramatically. It’s therefore best to use this kind of frozen yoghurt for baking, or as an ingredient in other dishes, rather than eating solo.
The first thing to know about storing cheese safely is to remove it from its plastic packaging and wrap in wax or parchment paper to keep it fresher for longer – just remember to label it with the date you bought it so you can keep track of how old it is. Adding a layer of clingfilm over the top of the paper will also ensure the cheese doesn’t take on the flavours or scents of other items in the fridge. Just don’t wrap cheese in plastic wrap first, as it can cause the cheese to ‘sweat’ and grow bacteria. Also, never freeze cheese as it will alter the texture, and make sure it’s refrigerated at a temperature around 4°C. Also, try and keep it in either a vegetable drawer or sealed part of the fridge – these tend to be slightly higher in humidity which will prevent the cheese from drying out. Finally, for softer cheeses, transfer to a sealed container, rather than wrapping in paper and be careful about how many times you let it sit outside of the fridge to reach room temperature before eating.
Again, it’s more common to keep bread in the fridge in North America, but it isn’t often the case in European kitchens. The truth is, if you want to keep bread fresher for longer, the fridge isn’t the answer. Freezing bread is the only fool proof and safe way to extend its shelf life; the fridge will only dry it out, and speed up the recrystallization of the starches – which is what turns it stale. As for loaves you don’t intend to freeze, keeping them on the counter is the safest option – although they’re only likely to last three or four days at the most.
Fresh & Dried Pasta
When it comes to storing dry, uncooked pasta, keep it in a cool, dry place, like the store cupboard, in an air-tight box or container for up to a year. Just be sure to follow the first-in, first-out rule, and use up packages you've had longest before opening new ones. As for fresh pasta – especially those made with egg – the fridge is the safest place. Expiration dates will be far shorter for fresh pasta than dried, but if you’re still not sure, it’s best not to hang on to it longer than three or four days. It is possible to freeze fresh pasta – even if you’ve made it yourself – for up to three months.
There’s no excuse to keep fresh, uncooked chicken or other poultry anywhere other than the fridge or freezer. In the fridge, be sure to keep it on a lower shelf so it doesn’t drip onto and cross-contaminate other items, and check expiration dates carefully. If you’re not sure what the expiration date is, or the meat has been defrosted first, recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advise only keeping raw chicken in the fridge for between one and two days maximum. If the meat is leftover, or cooked as part of another dish, let it cool for a maximum of two hours before refrigerating in an air tight container. Consume within two days.
Similar to chicken, fresh fish is best kept in the fridge or freezer, just remember never to refreeze raw meat (including poultry) or fish that has already been defrosted. According to official NHS advice, you can refreeze cooked meat and fish once, as long as they have been cooled before going into the freezer. If in doubt, do not refreeze. Otherwise, keep raw fish in the fridge and use before its printed expiration date or freeze it on the first day of purchase. If the fish in the fridge is part of a leftover meal, try to consume it within two days – assuming it’s been kept in a sealed container.
Just like chicken and fish, raw red meat should be kept in a sealed package toward the bottom of the fridge to avoid cross-contamination. To keep it fresher for longer, keep the meat in butcher paper where possible and place in a zip-lock bag before squeezing out the excess air. If you’ve frozen the meat and want to use it, give yourself enough time to let it thaw slowly, with experts agreeing that planning one day ahead is best, and move the meat from the freezer to the fridge to defrost. If the meat has never been frozen, but is wrapped up in the fridge, it’s probably wise to consume within the three or four days thereafter.
FRUIT & VEGETABLES
As the weather starts to warm up, it’s common to wonder whether fruit is best stored in the fridge. But according to the American Heart Association, there simply isn’t a one size fits all rule. For example, the shelf life of apples can be extended by keeping them in the vegetable drawer or crisper section of your fridge, while bananas need to be allowed to ripen on a kitchen counter. Fruits such as berries, cherries, citrus and melons all tend to do better in the fridge, while stoned fruits like peaches, plums and nectarines prefer to be left at room temperature. Finally, avocados (technically a fruit) should be left on the counter if they need to ripen, while the ‘perfectly ripe’ variety should be popped in the fridge drawer to help extend their life.
Much like fruit, there isn’t a straightforward answer when it comes to storing vegetables in the fridge. Tomatoes, for example, are generally better kept on a kitchen counter (evidence suggests they actually rot quicker at colder temperatures), while celery, leafy greens and most root vegetables should be stashed at the bottom of the fridge. As for mushrooms, store them in the fridge but unwashed and away from moisture, while onions and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli should be in the fridge, but kept separate from other items because of the strong odour and tendency to malt. Other items to leave out on the kitchen counter, but consume within one to three days, include cucumbers, aubergines and peppers.
FINALLY, A WORD ON TINS…
While tinned foods – think tuna, chopped tomatoes, vegetables and fruit – usually don’t require refrigeration, open tins which aren’t finished might need to be transferred to maintain their freshness, if you intend to use the rest of the contents another time. The NHS advises not to place open tins in the fridge directly, as the food risks developing a metallic taste. Instead, place the contents in a storage container or covered bowl before refrigerating, and consume within one or two days. If the contents are stored in water, this should be checked daily to ensure the items are still okay to consume.