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What should I store in my refrigerator?

WITH the rise of the supermarket, people are buying food in far greater quantities than ever before to benefit from the cost benefits of buying in bulk. To keep the food fresh people are putting the majority of their food into the refrigerator to make it keep longer. However, there are some common misconceptions about which foods should go in the refrigerator and which foods should not.

Refrigerating fruit is thought to help prevent fruits from ripening too quickly and in many cases this is true. However, with some fruits the complete opposite can occur. Bananas and melons for example go black very quickly in the refrigerator, tomatoes lose the retention in their skin whilst avocados in the refrigerator will not soften and instead will gain a rather hard texture. These fruits are generally from the Tropics, the Mediterranean and other warm climates and therefore do not deal well with the cold very well. Meanwhile those fruits from temperate climates, in general deal well with the cold and apples can easily be stored for long times in the refrigerator and it often gives them a crunchier texture.

Vegetables follow similar rules to fruits, the ones from temperate climates keep very well when refrigerated whilst vegetables such as peppers and courgettes become mushy very quickly and should be kept in a fruit bowl out of the refrigerator. Root vegetables do not keep that well in the refrigerator, the cool temperatures in refrigerators will increase the sugar content in vegetables such as potatoes which can lead to the release of carcinogenic chemicals when baked. Root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and onions should be kept at room temperature in a dark, dry place such as a cupboard. Mushrooms, although not a root vegetable, also fall into this category.

Meat should always be cooked from room temperature, but up until the few hours before cooking one should keep it in the refrigerator to reduce the possibility of bacteria build up. What is most important about the storing of meats in the refrigerator is that they be kept in the bottom of the refrigerator, so that they can not drip down onto other foods. Also, the bottom of the refrigerator is usually the coldest area of the refrigerator as hot air rises to the top whilst the cold air in the refrigerator sinks to the bottom of it. Meat is the most susceptible food to contamination, and therefore one should always try and keep it as cold as possible.

Eggs spoil quite quickly when stored in refrigerators and should really keep well for about a week without going off at room temperature. Supermarkets deliver extremely fresh eggs and therefore they can be kept out of the refrigerator without worrying about salmonella. However, if you insist on keeping your eggs in your refrigerator then there are a few guidelines that you should follow. Firstly, never keep them in the racks in the doors of the refrigerators as it will thin the egg whites when they are shaken. Also try and keep them in their boxes as the flavours and odours of other foods can easily penetrate the shells.

Many people are very snobbish about keeping cheese in the refrigerator but in reality most experts shun this. Of course, if you like your cheese working as a mini ecosystem then keep the cheese out of the refrigerator but for many people this is a little bit extreme and keeping the cheese in the refrigerator will help it last longer. One should always keep the cheese draped in a cloth to help it breath, but almost more importantly it prevents every other foodstuff in your refrigerator tasting like cheese. Cheese should however be served at room temperature so if serving it up at a dinner party, do remember to take it out the refrigerator a few hours before dinner starts.

There is a huge dilemma as to whether one should keep butter in the refrigerator. On the one hand, if it is kept in the refrigerator it becomes impossible to spread, yet on the other hand, when left out at room temperature it becomes sour very quickly. The alternative should never be to purchase a spreadable butter; if you can you should buy a European butter made of sour milk which will last a lot longer outside of the refrigerator, or if that is unattainable a salted, raw milk butter will last best at room temperature. If, however you are using butter solely for cooking then feel free to keep the butter in the refrigerator. However, if you’re a fan of toast, you are going to have to look for a better alternative.

One should also think about where to put cooked food. Obviously if you have leftovers you want to keep them, but you should be careful about where you put them in your refrigerator. Food can get very easily contaminated and so you should try and put them in a container to stop them from touching precooked meats as you may not reheat leftovers properly and if they have been sitting next to a salmonella infected chicken for a few days then you might find yourself regretting not having sorted out your refrigerator properly.

This applies for all foods which you will eat raw, keep them separate from your raw meats. Also, tinned foods, once opened should not be left open in the refrigerator and again should be emptied into a sealable container as often the material in the tins lining can react with air and can become hazardous.

Other foods which should not be kept in refrigerators include bread and cakes; they loose moisture very quickly and will take on a rubbery texture. Also a lot of condiments such as honey or peanut butter congeal and dry up very easily in the refrigerator and are better left at room temperature.

Pretty much all refrigerated foods have odours and often when kept in close proximity to one another, the more potently flavoured foods can get into the other foods and so it is well worth keeping your refrigerator organised, remember to keep the meat at the bottom of the refrigerator and keep everything else amongst similar food groups. Don’t just dump a side of lamb next to your room mates’ veggies as they may well not be too chuffed when it tastes funny and they end up sick in bed for a week because of it. One should try to cover foods as much as possible to prevent strong odours ruining other food.

There are certain other things to consider when putting food in the refrigerator, when putting large containers of hot food in a refrigerator for example think about splitting them up into shallow containers first. A large bowl of soup for example will take a long time to cool down in the middle of the soup and this can be very dangerous; the same goes for stews and pies.

One should never store perishable foods in the doors of refrigerators. It is the part of the refrigerator where the temperature ranges the most. So try not to put your eggs in the doors, despite the rather misleading egg racks and try not to milk in there either. The best thing to fill it with, it seems to me, are a few beers and maybe a bottle of wine.

Most important of all it seems though is to keep your refrigerator clean. Once a week, have a look in your refrigerator and throw away all the perishable foods that have become unsuitable for eating and give all the shelves a good scrub down. It is also usually quite difficult to get rid of bad odours from a refrigerator, so try to keep an open box of baking soda in the refrigerator at all times to eliminate odours. If, however, you’re not starting from scratch and your refrigerator is starting to pong a bit then try washing out your refrigerator with a mixture of water and vinegar; the acid in the mixture will help kill off any bacteria.

Foods which should never be put in the refrigerator: