We've talked about food storage and safety quite a bit here at Lifehacker. But if you're still not sure where to store your favourite snacks and for how long, our friends at Food52 have you covered with this complete guide.
Part of treating ingredients correctly is knowing the best places to store them and for how long. Let's tackle several storage myths and general confusions, starting with the counter and the pantry.
Garlic, onions and shallots: These alliums can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to two weeks. In the fridge, they will turn mealy and lose much of their flavour.
Tomatoes, potatoes and winter squash: Although it may seem blasphemous to keep vegetables out of the refrigerator, trust us (and the USDA): these should be kept in a cool, dry place instead. (Plus, they make beautiful decorations.)
Bananas, citrus and melons: Like the vegetables listed above, these fruits are best left on the counter. Once cut, they should be relegated to the refrigerator; otherwise, they will begin to dry out.
Bread: To slow down retrogradation — the process in which the starch molecules in bread crystallise — Cook's Illustrated says to store bread at room temperature for up to two days, either tightly wrapped in foil or in a Ziploc bag to minimise moisture loss. After two days, wrap the bread in foil, place in a freezer bag, and store it in the freezer. And to revive crusty bread that has been stored for more than a day, just pop it into the oven for a few minutes.
Cakes and pies: According to pastry chef Stella Parks, both frosted and un-frosted whole cakes will last for about a week when tightly wrapped in plastic. Cut cakes have a shorter shelf life, around three to four days. Fruit pies can be kept on the countertop for up to two days; after this, move them to the refrigerator.
Dry goods: Generally, dry goods can be stored for up to six months (longer if you take good care of them), according to scientists at Colorado State University. Once a package is open, it’s best to move it to an airtight container. This will ensure freshness and keep your pantry cleaner to boot.
Nuts: Store your nuts in airtight containers if possible — these allow them to maintain the right level of moisture. For ultimate freshness, consider storing them with their shells on.
Spices: As the LA Times tells us, heat, light, air and humidity are all spices’ enemies; your spices should live in your pantry. Whole spices last much longer than crushed or ground — these can be kept for up to two years, while ground spices should be refreshed every six months. Airtight tins or small spice jars are the best mode of storage.
Now, we're taking you to the refrigerator and freezer. Because not all parts are created equal, we'll show you where — and for how long — your goods will last.
Dairy products: According to Cooks Illustrated, milk, cream, yoghurt and other dairy products are best stored on the upper shelves of your refrigerator. The temperature there is the most constant, so they'll keep longer.
Eggs: Some refrigerators urge you to put your eggs on the inside of their door. Don’t give in — the door is the warmest part of the refrigerator. Eggs are happiest in their cartons on a shelf. Don't try to be European and store your eggs outside the refrigerator either: eggs in Australia, unlike in Europe, are washed before sale, so they lose their protective outer layer.
Mushrooms: According to our friends at the Kitchn, commercial mushrooms (the ones you buy at the supermarket) are best left in their original packaging. Once you open it, wrap the whole package in plastic wrap. Wild mushrooms are best kept in a paper bag in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer.
Vegetables: All vegetables, minus the ones relegated to the countertop, are best stored in perforated plastic bags in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. To make sure they don't decompose prematurely, keep them away from ethylene-producing fruits: apples, stone fruits, mangoes, passionfruit, pears and kiwis.
Fruit: Fruit, with the exception of melons, citrus and bananas, should be stored in the refrigerator in a separate drawer from the vegetables. Do not wash your fruit until you are ready to eat it; the excess water quickens decomposition. Although whole lemons are best left out on the counter, lemons that have been zested — but not juiced — can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator.
Cheese: According to Formaticum's blog, cheese should be wrapped in porous material for storage; cheese paper is the best, but waxed paper or baking paper will also do the trick. Before storing, do a “face clean” of each cheese: scrape the surface with a non-serrated knife to remove any excess oil that may have “sweat out” at room temperature.
Each cheese should be wrapped separately and marked with the name and date of purchase. Avoid plastic wrap at all costs — as scientiest Harold McGee says in his book On Food and Cooking, the cheese can absorb the flavours and chemicals from the plastic. There’s nothing worse than an expensive piece of cheese that reeks of plastic or has gone bad, so storing it correctly is worth that extra effort. For a handy how-to guide, check out this article from Serious Eats.
Meat: Meat is best stored in the coldest section of the refrigerator: the bottom. Removing the retail packaging and rewrapping the meat in foil can extend its shelf life, but you should try to consume refrigerated meat within four days of purchase.
Fish: Before refrigerating a piece of fish, dry it completely and wrap it in waxed paper. It will usually keep in the coldest part of your fridge for up to two days, but make sure to check the smell before you cook it. If it smells too fishy or has an off colour, throw it out. For bonus points: store wrapped fish on a bed of ice (heaped in a bowl or shallow dish) in the fridge and change as needed, à la Cooks Illustrated.
Pies: According to Betty Crocker, pies containing eggs (custard or cream-based pies) should be stored loosely covered in the refrigerator.
Yeast: While yeast can last in the pantry, it's best stored in the refrigerator (or freezer, for long-term). Once exposed to heat and light, it's easily killed.
Herbs: According to FOOD52-er RobertaJ on this Hotline thread, basil, parsley, cilantro and other leafy, water-based herbs should be treated like flowers: take off any twisty ties, trim a small amount off the stem ends, and plop the bunch into a tall glass of water. Cover the herbs loosely with a plastic bag, and they’ll stay fresh for at least a week. Hardier, oil-based herbs like thyme and rosemary can be wrapped in a damp paper towel and layered into plastic bags. Hotline MVP anitalectric has a special tip for basil: wash, dry and stem the basil when you get home from the market, and keep the leaves in a rolled-down plastic bag. They’ll stay fresh for five days.
Meat: Freezing uncooked meat in its original packaging is the best way to keep it for long periods of time. According to the USDA, the maximum recommended freezer storage time for beef and lamb is six months; for veal, pork and poultry, four months; and for seasoned sausage, two months.
Fish: Fish can last in the freezer, according to the Perdue University Center for Animal Sciences, for up to six months. Fattier fish, however, should not be frozen for over three months. For the best results, use the ice-glaze method provided by the National Center for Home Food Preservation: place the unwrapped fish in the freezer until completely frozen, dip the fish in near-freezing ice water and place it back in the freezer to harden. Continue with this process until a uniform cover of ice is formed, then place the fish in a freezer bag for storage. As an alternative, according to the US Federal Drug Administration, you can simply wrap your fish tightly in plastic, foil or moisture-proof paper before freezing.
Pies and pie crusts: You can freeze crusts and whole pies, baked or unbaked. According to Betty Crocker, an unbaked crust will keep for two months; an unbaked pie for three months; and a baked crust or pie for four months.
Cake: Un-cut, un-frosted cakes can be wrapped first in plastic wrap, then tin foil and stored in the freezer for several months. To thaw, let the rounds spend a night in the refrigerator; cake needs to thaw slowly so that it can reabsorb its moisture.
Stock: Freeze stock in ice cube trays or muffin tins, then store the cubes/chunks in a freezer bag. That way you can access a small amount of stock whenever a recipe calls for it. To save even more space, reduce the stock by 50 per cent before you freeze it, then add water when you defrost it. According to Martha Stewart Living, frozen stock will last up to two months. You can also store leftover wine in the same manner and use as needed.
Coffee: Cook's Illustrated says the freezer is the best place to store ground coffee beans; they keep longer and will retain their well-rounded, roasted flavour.
Citrus Zest: Here's a tip from the smart folks at The Kitchn: any time you use a lemon, lime, grapefruit or orange, take a few minutes to zest it. You can store the zest in the freezer in plastic bags for each fruit — or, if you’re feeling fancy, in individual, plastic-wrapped portions.
Brette Warshaw is the editorial assistant at Food52. She's a reader, eater, culinary thrillseeker and food nerd.