I imagine cooking—and life for that matter—would be easier if all the rules were hard and fast. But cooking, and life, are full of nuance. It’s personal. What works for me may be different from what works for you. This applies not just to how you season your salad or sear your meat, but also how you store ingredients.
As a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in clinical nutrition, I know a lot about food safety, food waste, and healthy kitchen habits. Below I’ve outlined 10 foods that I never stash in the pantry, rather I keep in the fridge. A few are non-negotiable (mayo!) and others are debatable (peanut butter?).
Before we dig in, here are a few food storage guidelines:
- If an ingredient is refrigerated at the market, that’s where it belongs at home.
- Just because food can be stored in the pantry doesn’t mean that’s the best place for it. Generally speaking, refrigeration extends shelf life and helps to preserve flavors.
- “If in doubt, throw it out” is a safe rule of thumb when it comes to determining if a food is past its prime.
10 Foods I Never Store In the Pantry
1. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are high in fat and can go rancid fairly quickly. I buy them in bulk since they’re cheaper that way and I never run out. I store most of my supply in the freezer, keeping smaller jars of each one within easy reach in the fridge. Ditto for almond flour and other nut flours, too.
Growing up my mom always kept our eggs in a bowl on the kitchen counter, something that’s routinely done in places like the U.K. and France. Here in the U.S., eggs need to be refrigerated. That’s because our eggs get washed in order to minimize the risk of salmonella. The downside is that the process also removes an outer layer that protects against bacteria, so the fridge is the best bet for egg safety.
3. Specialty Spice Pastes and Hot Sauces
Hot chiles have natural antibacterial properties, which means chile sauces tend to have a decent shelf life. That said, a little goes a long way with ingredients such as harissa, Calabrian chiles, gochujang, sambal, and Mexican hot sauces. In our house, it can take months to go through a jar, so I keep them refrigerated to maximize shelf life and preserve flavor.
Whether you’re using Best Foods for your tuna sandwich or Kewpie mayo for your poke bowls, mayo needs to be in the fridge once the jar is cracked open. I also happen to like it when my mayo is good and cold on a turkey sandwich.
Mustard is high in acidity and can be safely stored in the pantry, even after it’s opened. Even so, I find the flavor takes a nosedive if kept at room temperature for too long, so I always opt for the fridge.
6. Pure Maple Syrup
It would seem like maple syrup might fall into the same camp as honey and molasses, sticky substances that shouldn’t be refrigerated. Not so, particularly if you buy it in large jugs as I do. While it can live at room temperature for a time, it has no preservatives and can develop mold.
Both corn and whole wheat flour tortillas are staples in my house. I find they begin to mold if I store them in my bread box. Keeping them in the fridge extends shelf life by several weeks.
8. Peanut Butter
If you have a daily PB&J habit and can use up a jar within a few weeks, by all means, store peanut butter (or any nut or seed butter) in the pantry. Much longer than that and I find the fridge is best to prevent rancidity.
Salty Irish butter is a staple in my house that I’m grateful for every time I smear it on toast. When all three of my kids are home and we can go through a box of butter in a week, it lives on the counter where it becomes pleasingly soft. When it’s just me and my husband, the butter stays in the fridge.
10. Citrus fruits
Truth? I don’t always keep lemons, limes, and mandarins in the fridge. That’s because my produce drawers don’t always have the space—plus, I love how pretty a bowl of lemons looks on my dining table. But, citrus will last a whole lot longer if kept in the fridge. Maybe I just need a bigger fridge?