The fridge is a beautiful thing. Its consistently low temperature keeps bacteria from growing on our food, and it gives us tasty refrigerator pickles. But it turns out that not everything we eat should be kept at a perpetual chill. In fact, for some foods, the fridge can do more harm than good. Click through to find out which common foods are actually damaged by your fridge’s cool, humid environs.
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Potatoes are best stored in a cool, dark root cellar or basement between 45 and 50 degrees. Refrigerators are kept at 40 degrees or lower, and those colder temperatures cause the potato’s starches to convert to sugar, ruining their flavor.
Related: Growing Potatoes
Onions belong in a cool, dry, well-ventilated spot, like a root cellar. The fridge is too humid for onions, which can cause them to sprout. Plus, like potatoes, the cold will covert an onion’s starch to sugar.
If you’re growing tomatoes you may have noticed that even fresh-picked tomatoes taste bland and watery after a night in the fridge. That’s because refrigeration damages the membranes inside the fruit’s walls, causing them to become mealy and blah. It’s better to keep them out on the counter where they continue to ripen after picking. If you’ve got more ripe tomatoes than you can eat before they go mushy, check out our 3 Super Simple Ways To Preserve Garden Tomatoes.
Maybe your grandma swears by keeping coffee in the fridge, but you might not want to follow her advice this time around. According to the National Coffee Association, coffee is hydroscopic, meaning it readily absorbs moisture in addition to other odors and tastes, so coffee in the fridge is never going to taste as fresh as the stuff in the pantry. The NCA does recommend storing your coffee in a cool, dark spot, however, and advises against buying in bulk (no matter how big your caffeine addiction is) because coffee begins to lose its freshness immediately after roasting.
According to the U.K.’s National Health Service, you should never stick an open tin can in the fridge. Doing so could cause metals from the can to leach into the food. Instead, they advise transferring the leftover contents to a glass storage container. The FDA, on the other hand, says it’s fine to put half-empty cans in the fridge. Either way, storage containers are still a better choice since they’ll lock in flavors and keep food fresher.
According to a USDA study, watermelons kept a room temperature before slicing had significantly more antioxidants than melons stored in the fridge. (Temperature can affect the process by which caroteniod compounds, a type of antioxidant in watermelon, are formed.) Researchers say the fruits last longer out of the fridge than in, too: The average shelf life for a watermelon stored at 55 degrees was two to three weeks, but they’ll start to go bad in less than a week in a 40-degree refrigerator.
Bananas are a tropical fruit, so they especially like warm temperatures. Cold temperatures interrupt their ripening process for good, says the One Banana company, so green bananas in the fridge means green bananas forever. It’s also true that banana peels will turn completely black in the refrigerator (the cold breaks down the peel’s cell walls, causing compounds to oxidize and produce melanin), but the fruit itself will be just fine. Banana companies actually recommend letting bananas stay out on the counter until they reach the ripeness you prefer and then transferring them to the fridge to keep them at their peak for a few more days.
Leftovers should be allowed to cool to room temperature before being packed away, according to the UK’s National Health Service, because hot food can raise the temperature inside your refrigerator, encouraging bacteria growth. But that’s not the only problem—added heat means your fridge has to work harder to cool down, driving up energy usage.
Putting fresh basil in the fridge is not a mistake you’d be likely to make twice, seeing as it turns all black and gross after a night in the crisper. It’s simply too cold in there for basil’s tender leaves.
Plus, basil is extra sensitive to ethylene, a gas that fruits give off as they ripen and which causes leafy greens to wilt, so keeping basil locked up in a drawer with other produce makes things worse. Instead, keep it in a jar of water out on the counter (like you would keep cut flowers). You can also cover it loosely with a plastic bag to trap in humidity.