From Freezer to Fridge, Pantry to Counter: The Best Way to Store Food

Gabrielle Karol

When it comes to food, everyone’s heard the adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” But that’ll only work if you keep your apples separate (apples cause other produce to spoil more quickly). You may have already mastered perimeter shopping and the farmers’ market game plan, but all will be for naught if the food you buy doesn’t hold up once you get home. Never throw out stale bread or spoiled milk again: Storing food correctly will make it taste better and last longer, saving you money. Check out our tips and click on the infographic below for the low-down on storing specific foods in your kitchen.

Rules for the Fridge

  • Set your fridge’s temperature to 40 degrees Fahrenheit—any lower, and you’re wasting energy. Raising your fridge’s temperature by two degrees will save you about $20 per year.
  • Don’t overstuff it. Overfilling the fridge prevents proper air circulation and can raise the temperature of some of your items, causing them to spoil more quickly.
  • Set your freezer to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, max (any lower, and you’re wasting energy and money). For every five degrees it’s raised over zero, your food’s storage time is sliced in half.
  • If there’s a power outage, food will be safe for up to 48 hours in a full freezer and 24 hours in a half-full freezer. If the power has been out for over four hours, throw out perishables in the fridge like meat, seafood and dairy.

Food StorageRules for Leftovers

  • Store leftovers in the smallest possible containers that can be tightly sealed. This will save space in your fridge and prevent bacteria from growing due to air exposure.
  • Once you open a can of something like beans or corn, store the leftovers in a different container, rather than the original can. Once exposed to air, the metal on the rim will leave a metallic taste on the food inside.
  • Don’t be too quick to toss: Items like honey, rice, sugar, liquor, maple syrup, vanilla extract, white vinegar, salt and cornstarch will last for years after being opened, as long as they’ve been stored well.

Discussion of the Day

How do you save at the grocery store? Share your tips with other LearnVesters!

Rules for Reading Labels

  • Buy foods before the sell-by date, but note that those dates on perishables like meat, seafood and dairy products tell grocers how long to keep a product on the shelf. You can keep eating them after that date as long as the item has been properly maintained and stored.
  • “Best If Used By” dates are generally found on products that don’t spoil easily and can sit on shelves for a long time, like mustard, peanut butter, mayonnaise, etc. These items will taste best if eaten by the recommended date but can be eaten after the date has passed if they’ve been well-maintained.


In the Freezer

Freeze food in individual portions (for example, freeze chicken breasts in separate bags) so you can defrost only as many portions you need.


In the Freezer

Store food in glass jars or metal or rigid plastic containers when possible, or in sealable plastic bags.


In The Fridge

Refrigerate avocado, grapeseed, hazelnut, sesame, truffle and walnut oils after opening; keep in the fridge for up to six months.


Whole Wheat Flour

Store whole wheat flour in an airtight container in the fridge to prevent oils in the flour from making it go rancid.



Keep fruit on the top shelves, closest to eye-level, so you’ll be encouraged to reach for a healthy snack. Always refrigerate raspberries, strawberries, grapes and cherries (don’t wash berries until it’s time to eat them, as the moisture will lead to quicker spoiling). Also, refrigerate any fruit once it’s been cut.


Dairy and Eggs

Store eggs and milk on top of the crisper rather than in the door, since it’s the coolest part of the refrigerator; keep eggs in their original packaging rather than transferring to the containers for eggs that often come in fridges.


Meat and Fish

Store meat on the bottom shelf (in case the meat drips). Keep meats and fish in the packaging in which you originally bought them because re-wrapping increases the chance that they’ll be exposed to harmful bacteria.



Refrigerate the following veggies in a crisper as soon as you get home: artichokes, asparagus, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, cucumber, eggplant, green beans, green onions, kale, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, peas, radishes, spinach, turnips and zucchini.


Fridge Door

Store juices, condiments and wines on the shelves of the refrigerator door; if champagne bottles are too wide to fit, lay them on their side toward the back of a shelf so they won’t roll out and break.


Fruit Basket

It’s fine to store the following at room temperature (unless you like cold fruit!): apples, clementines, grapefruit, kumquats, lemons, limes, oranges, pomegranates and watermelon.



Tomatoes become mealy in the fridge, so keep them on the counter



Keep bread on the counter or in a bread basket for up to four days; if you’re not eating it immediately, freeze for up to three months.


On the Counter

Store the following on the counter until they’re ripe (or in a paper bag if you’re trying to speed along the ripening process): apricots, avocados, bananas, melons, kiwi, mangos, nectarines, papayas, peaches, pears, pineapple and plums. Once ripe, eat immediately or refrigerate.



Keep apples a little separate from other produce because their presence will ripen other fruits and veggies in close proximity.


In the Pantry

Store all food in sealable metal, glass or plastic containers if not in original packaging.



Store large, opened boxes of cereal in airtight plastic storage containers. This will maintain freshness and prevent staleness for up to a month. Lock & Lock makes BPA-free airtight storage containers in all shapes and sizes to accommodate your pantry space.



Store grains like rice, couscous and white flour in airtight plastic containers. This will protect them from bugs and keep grains fresh. Buy only as much white flour as you’ll use in six months; after that, the natural oils in the flour might turn rancid.


Pantry Temperature

You probably don’t have say in the layout of your kitchen, but keep your pantry goods cool and dry as much as possible (read: away from ovens, heaters and pipes); between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.

  • Karin

    I’ve had great success with the green produce bags (Debbie Mayers is one brand). As soon as I get back from the store or market, I transfer all of my produce to the bags (one type of produce per bag). The food does indeed stay fresh for days beyond usual.

    • Julie

      I have never used them, but have friends that have.  However, I was watching “Dr Oz” and he said that according to research, the bags really do not buy extra shelf life when tested “apples to apples”, if you will….

      • Rick

        I personally tested the bags 3 years ago in NYC, put some banana inside the bag and left some outside. After week and half I could see the difference between both products.

    • Alexandraw

      Tried those bags and was very disappointed. Is there another brand anyone’s tried that truly works? Thanks

  • Eb

    is there a way to convert that graphic above into a refrigerator magnet? the printed list is ok but it would be nice to keep it in an open area where i can see it frequently and use it as a guideline.

  • Tina

    honey never goes bad

    • Gwohrle

      One of our good friends is a bee keeper.  He warns me that the honey does not go bad, but the contaminantes that get in the honey jar will… make sure your knife does not spread honey then go back into the jar.  A squeezable is best.

  • Tina

    honey never goes bad

  • hendrey

    If you buy healthy, fresh bread (few ingredients and no preservatives) it will go stale in a day, especially if it’s just in its paper bag. If you close it tightly in a long, plastic bag (like the bags in the produce section), it will last a week. Here in MA, Stop&Shop sells fresh loaves for 99-cents on Fridays. We stock up–bagging them all and freezing some.

    I agree that when in doubt, you should just throw it out. However, you don’t need to toss all dairy just because the power’s out for a few hours. In Europe, grocers often keep eggs right out on the shelf. It seemed weird to me at first, but they don’t go bad just by being unrefrigerated for a day. Same for yogurt. As long as it’s good yogurt with lots of live cultures (i.e. Stoneyfield Farms, not Yoplait), it can stay out for a couple of days and it won’t go bad. Butter goes rancid only after several days without refrigeration. Hard cheeses may soften, but you can put them back in the fridge and they’ll be fine. A previous poster made an important point, though. This works if you’ve maintained the food properly to start with, and not introduced *other* bacteria to it by sharing utensils between multiple products. If you’re a “serial double-dipper or carton-sipper” you should be more conservative!