DIY Food

Smart Storage, Part 1

March 27, 2012

Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. Today, we're talking about smart storage.

We’ve given you Our Weekly Grocery List; now, we’ll show you how to stock your larder. Part of treating ingredients correctly is knowing the best places to store them, and for how long. We're tackling several storage myths and general confusions, starting with the counter and the pantry. We'll be covering the rest of the kitchen next week. 


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Banana and Citrus

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 flavor.

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 crystallize -- Cook's Illustrated says to store bread at room temperature for up to 2 days, either tightly-wrapped in foil or in a Ziploc bag to minimize moisture loss. After 2 days, wrap the bread in foil, place in a freezer bag, and store it in the freezer. And to revive crusty bread that's 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 3 to 4 days. Fruit pies can be kept on the countertop for up to 2 days; after this, move them to the refrigerator.

Onions Potatoes



Dry goods: Generally, dry goods can be stored for up to 6 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 air-tight container; this will ensure freshness and keep your pantry cleaner to boot.

Nuts: Store your nuts in air-tight 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 2 years, while ground spices should be refreshed every 6 months. Airtight tins or small spice jars are the best mode of storage.

Spices Nuts

What are your tried-and-true pantry or counter storage tricks? 

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    Aly Phillips
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Brette Warshaw

Written by: Brette Warshaw

I'm a reader, eater, culinary thrill-seeker, and food nerd.


Aly P. September 6, 2015
NEVER leave potatoes out and exposed to light. Light exposure triggers solanine production in potatoes, which is highly poisonous. Advising people to leave potatoes out on their counters can literally cause deaths and birth defects.
Giselle G. August 10, 2014
I usually keep my Potatoes in a well ventilated bin, I do wrap a clean dark colored kitchen towel to keep the light out and off the counter. This has worked so far.
Alice_ April 27, 2012
Potatoes left on the kitchen counter at room temperature will turn green (unless the kitchen is quite dark and cool) , and It's safer to store them in the fridge . I've tried several times to store them in a dark corner of my kitchen or pantry, and have had to toss every single potato out. When the green areas develop, they contain solanine and are toxic to humans.
Aly P. September 6, 2015
Agreed. I am appalled they recommend leaving them on the counter. I use Orka potato vegetable keep sack (on Amazon) to store my potatoes.
Sally G. April 8, 2021
You can safely store potatoes in a dark corner, but not in the plastic bag. I keep mine in a tall basket to keep the light out and get air circulation. They don’t get green or spoil. Refrigeration turns the starches to sugar, which some like, but for my use, the sweetness doesn’t taste right.
seasonalfeast April 9, 2012
I use lazy Susans - single and double tier - to store my spices and some vinegars/oils/oil sprays. I have three across the length of my dry goods cabinet and this has worked really well for me to see what I have available. I can't take credit for this system; my mom set this up for me, based on her spice cabinet. Inexpensive and it works!
midnitechef April 3, 2012
Brown sugar, once opened, should be put in an air-tight container. To keep it from going rock hard, leave a hunk of apple in the jar.
seasonalfeast April 9, 2012
I leave a piece of bread in my brown sugar and it also keeps it from hardening. I change it out periodically and if the sugar does harden, despite my bread efforts, I toss it in the microwave for 10-15 secs. Instantly soft again.
chava April 2, 2012
Dried out and hardened bread can be restored by 10 seconds or so in the microwave. Don't ask me how it works! Too much time, and the bread gets reallllllllyy chewy.
seasonalfeast April 9, 2012
I do this, as well! It works! And then I pop into the oven or toaster oven to crisp. if I know we won't eat all of the bread (baguette, etc) in one meal, I cut into portions, Glad wrap it, seal in a freezer bag and freeze. Works great when I catch the free baguette at the bakery end of day :)
rparagus April 1, 2012
I live in the Florida Keys. We cannot leave garlic,shallots ,onions out of the refrigerator . Too hot and humid- what to do?
rparagus April 1, 2012
I live in the Florida Keys. We cannot leave garlic,shallots ,onions out of the refrigerator . Too hot and humid- what to do?
Sami April 8, 2012
I live in North Florida, and the heat and humidity is a problem here, too! I usually leave them wrapped up and in the crisper of the fridge, and I've seen no loss of flavor even when keeping them there for up to a month. In the winter, regular onions and shallots are fine in the pantry. Garlic I tend to forget on the counter, and it's fine so long as you go through it quickly, check for mold before you use it, and if it starts sprouting, just plant it!
Mike Z. April 1, 2012
I keep small containers of spices in my kitchen, but buy them in more economical sizes that I keep in the freezer.
food52_lvr April 1, 2012
I hope storing oils will be addressed soon. My mother insists on all oils in a kitchen cabinet away from the stove and oven but her kitchen "room temperature" hovers steadily at 75-85 degrees fahrenheit -- and that's when nothing's cooking. Just a note to mention that one person's "room temperature" is another's sauna or icebox.
Jim M. March 28, 2012
Does anyone have any info on where to buy the pantry cabinets shown in the photo. Thanks
Jim M. March 28, 2012
Does anyone have any info on where to buy the pantry cabinets shown in the photo. Thanks
amgchem March 28, 2012
When you live in a warm humid climate, eg Florida, the Caribbean, breads & cakes get moldy really fast. So what do you recommend as a storage?
Brette W. March 28, 2012
Double-wrap them in plastic wrap and foil, and then store in the freezer! Make sure to thaw cakes in the fridge, though, so that it absorbs moisture evenly.
Sami April 8, 2012
I buy half-loafs of grainier breads, and I find that they last longer before getting all fuzzy. Cake, I think, should always be eaten within two or three days, but maybe that's a personal thing...

lloreen March 28, 2012
You keep ripe tomatoes on the counter? I usually put them in the fridge if they are ripe so that they will last longer. Is there a reason not to do this?
Brette W. March 28, 2012
Refrigerating tomatoes actually causes damage to the to the membranes inside the cell walls, resulting in a mealy texture and a loss in flavor. So they're best kept on the counter -- or just used up fast!
Anitalectric March 27, 2012
My spice collection would crush a traditional spice rack to bits, so years ago, I purchased a DVD shelf to store them on. I have a little Bonne Maman jam jar fetish, so as you can see, I keep most of my spices stored in those. Stacked two high and two deep, they fit perfectly! I could fit over 150 jars of spices here if I needed to :)

I buy spices by the pound and grind what I need for the month ahead. That way, they stay fresh and potent. With these bigger jars, spices are easier to see, open, and measure out. I have no patience for those fussy little jars or magnetic boards. In my kitchen, they wouldn't last a day!

The one exception is paprika, which my Hungarian friend told me never to expose to light. That stays shut away in my pantry cabinet.

I highly recommend this for anyone out there whose spice collection is getting too big for it's britches.

Click here to see it:
vivanat March 27, 2012
I have such envy of Amanda's beautiful and well-organized kitchen.
la D. March 27, 2012
Not sure if this is an old wive's tale, but I store onions & garlic away from potatoes because of the belief that the gases released by alliums cause the potatoes to sprout/go bad. Also, I use an Emile Henry butter pot to store my butter at room temp on the counter, and I love how the butter is always soft and spreadable without going bad. This will not work for those who live in exceptionally warm/humid climates, though. Lastly, if I bake bread and want to preserve that beautiful crust, I store the loaf in my le Creuset dutch oven pot that's always sitting on my counter. It's like a bread box.
tastelifetwice April 2, 2012
I've heard the onions and garlic thing too, so that's some partial corroboration. I love the bread in Le Creuset suggestion! I have one always sitting on my stove as well, since there's no other lace for it, but had never thought of using it as a bread box while it's 'off-duty.' Thanks!
Devangi R. March 27, 2012
This is such a wonderful article..oh my I need a big kitchen is right now disastrous..

What suggestions do you have for people who have less cabinet space and also less counter space..pls don't tell me change the house..haha...right now my kitchen aid is lying on treadmill mat..which is just outside the kitchen because kitchen counter has no space for it.

Few things from the mentioned article above that I store potatoes, onions and garlic always on counter top. Also bananas on dining table. But, I store nuts in fridge in ziploc bags. They really do stay fresh..
passifloraedulis March 27, 2012
Could we discuss the best way to store flour? (Air tight containers, but should it be stored in the refrigerator?)
Brette W. March 27, 2012
I lumped flour in with the "dry goods" section -- it is best kept in an air-tight container in the pantry! Stay tuned for the fridge and freezer next week.
AEC March 27, 2012
Who has pie left on the countertop past 2 days?
Kristy M. March 27, 2012
Good question!