DIY Food

Smart Storage, Part 2

April  3, 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 shown you what to store on your counter and in your pantry -- now, we're taking you to the refrigerator and freezer. Because not all parts are created equal, we'll show you where -- and for how long -- your goods will last. Got any helpful storage tips or questions? Leave them in the comments section!


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Dairy products: According to Cooks Illustrated, milk, cream, yogurt, and other dairy products are best stored on the upper shelves of your refrigerator; the temperature there is the most constant, so they'll keep longer.

Eggs: Some refrigerators urge you to put your eggs on the inside of their door. Don’t give in -- the door is the warmest part of the refrigerator. Eggs are happiest in their cartons on a shelf. Don't try to be European and store your eggs outside the refrigerator; eggs in the United States, unlike in Europe, are washed before sale so they lose their protective outer layer. 

Mushrooms: According to our friends at the Kitchn, commercial mushrooms (the ones you buy at the grocery store) are best left in their original packaging. Once you open it, wrap the whole package in plastic wrap. Wild mushrooms are best kept in a paper bag in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. 

Vegetables: All vegetables, minus the ones relegated to the countertop, are best stored in perforated plastic bags in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. To make sure they don't decompose prematurely, keep them away from ethylene-producing fruits: apples, stone fruits, mangoes, passion fruit, pears, and kiwis.

Fruit: Fruit, with the exception of melons, citrus, and bananas, should be stored in the refrigerator in a separate drawer from the vegetables. Do not wash your fruit until you are ready to eat it; the excess water quickens decomposition. Although whole lemons are best left out on the counter, lemons that have been zested -- but not juiced -- can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator. 

Cheese: According to Formaticum's blog, cheese should be wrapped in porous material for storage; cheese paper is the best, but waxed paper or parchment paper will also do the trick. Before storing, do a “face clean” of each cheese: scrape the surface with a non-serrated knife to remove any excess oil that may have “sweat out” at room temperature. Each cheese should be wrapped separately and marked with the name and date of purchase. Avoid plastic wrap at all costs -- as scientiest Harold McGee says in his book On Food and Cooking, the cheese can absorb the flavors and chemicals from the plastic. There’s nothing worse than an expensive piece of cheese that reeks of plastic or has gone bad, so storing it correctly is worth that extra effort. For a handy how-to, check out this article from Serious Eats. 

Eggs Drawer
Eggs in the door! Shame on us. Do as we say, not as we do. 

Meat: Meat is best stored in the coldest section of the refrigerator: the bottom. Removing the retail packaging and rewrapping the meat in foil can extend its shelf life, but you should try to consume refrigerated meat within 4 days of purchase.

Fish: Before refrigerating a piece of fish, dry it completely and wrap it in waxed paper. It will usually keep in the coldest part of your fridge for up to 2 days, but make sure to check the smell before you cook it; if it smells too fishy or has an off color, throw it out. For bonus points: 
store wrapped fish on a bed of ice (heaped in a bowl or shallow dish) in the fridge, and change as needed, à la Cooks Illustrated

Pies: According to Betty Crocker, pies containing eggs (custard or cream-based pies) should be stored loosely covered in the refrigerator.

Yeast: While yeast can last in the pantry, it's best stored in the refrigerator (or freezer, for long-term); once exposed to heat and light, it's easily killed. 

Herbs: According to FOOD52-er RobertaJ on this Hotline thread, basil, parsley, cilantro, and other leafy, water-based herbs should be treated like flowers: take off any twisty ties, trim a small amount off the stem ends, and plop the bunch into a tall glass of water. Cover the herbs loosely with a plastic bag, and they’ll stay fresh for at least a week. Hardier, oil-based herbs like thyme and rosemary can be wrapped in a damp paper towel and layered into plastic bags. Hotline MVP anitalectric has a special tip for basil: wash, dry, and stem the basil when you get home from the market, and keep the leaves in a rolled-down plastic bag. They’ll stay fresh for 5 days.

Yeast likes to hang out in the fridge. Amanda also likes to keep "sensitive" oils in there. 



Meat: Freezing uncooked meat in its original packaging is the best way to keep it for long periods of time. According to the USDA, the maximum recommended freezer storage time for beef and lamb is 6 months; for veal, pork, and poultry, 4 months; and for seasoned sausage, 2 months.

Fish: Fish can last in the freezer, according to the Perdue University Center for Animal Sciences, for up to 6 months; fattier fish, however, should not be frozen for over 3 months. For the best results, use the ice-glaze method provided by the National Center for Home Food Preservation: place the unwrapped fish in the freezer until completely frozen, dip the fish in near-freezing ice water, and place it back in the freezer to harden. Continue with this process until a uniform cover of ice is formed, then place the fish in a freezer bag for storage. As an alternative, according to the FDA you can simply wrap your fish tightly in plastic, foil, or moisture-proof paper before freezing.

Pies and pie crusts: You can freeze crusts and whole pies, baked or unbaked. According to Betty Crocker, an unbaked crust will keep for 2 months; an unbaked pie for 3 months; and a baked crust or pie for 4 months.

Cake: Un-cut, un-frosted cakes can be wrapped first in plastic wrap, then tin foil, and stored in the freezer for several months. To thaw, let the rounds spend a night in the refrigerator; cake needs to thaw slowly so that it can reabsorb its moisture.

Stock: Freeze stock in ice cube trays or muffin tins, then store the cubes/chunks in a freezer bag. That way, you can access a small amount of stock whenever a recipe calls for it. To save even more space, reduce the stock by 50 percent before you freeze it, then add water when you defrost it. According to Martha Stewart Living, frozen stock will last up to 2 months. You can also store leftover wine in the same manner and use as needed. 

CoffeeCook's Illustrated says the freezer is the best place to store ground coffee beans; they keep longer, and will retain thier well-rounded, roasted flavor.

Citrus Zest: Here's a tip from the smart folks at The Kitchn: any time you use a lemon, lime, grapefruit, or orange, take a few minutes to zest it. You can store the zest in the freezer in plastic bags for each fruit -- or if you’re feeling fancy, in individual, plastic-wrapped portions. 


See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Califood1
  • hickorystick0
  • bas26
  • sstiavetti
  • wingirls
Brette Warshaw

Written by: Brette Warshaw

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


Califood1 June 2, 2019
What is the best way to store brocolli in the frig? I steam it for my dog everyday sometime she won’t eat it . Could be how I’m storing it
hickorystick0 February 22, 2016
The best way to store fresh mushrooms is to take them out of their containers and put them in a large brown paper bag, Do not wash before storing. They will last several weeks without getting moldy. I've found when a bag with a few mushrooms gets pushed back and forgotten - the mushrooms actually dry and can then be stored in any container without refrigeration. They can be easily reconstituted by placing them in water for a few minutes. Be sure to rinse twice then before using.
bas26 September 6, 2015
Years ago I was at the Fancy Food Show in Manhattan. A woman in the Italian pavilion was assembling chunks of Parmesan cheese for sampling and passed on a tip for storing Parmesan that I use to this day. Wrap the Parmesan tightly in plastic wrap. Then wrap tightly in aluminum foil and store in the refrigerator. The cheese will remain fresh and mold free for many months. The key is to make sure there is no air between the plastic wrap and the cheese.
sstiavetti April 9, 2012
Great suggestions! This is really useful, so I've forwarded it to a bunch of people I know. (an email this feature would be great ;)
wingirls April 8, 2012
Thanks - all of this is helpful - although I like my oranges and grapefruits cold so when I make fresh juice it is already chilled...

Does anyone have some smart ideas on storage for lettuces and greens? I can't seem to get this right...
ltosoc April 8, 2012
What are examples of sensitive oils? Truffle oil???
Reiney April 10, 2012
Nut & seed oils can go rancid quickly, even if stored in a cool dark place - hazelnut, sesame, walnut, pumpkin seed, etc.
Sami April 8, 2012
Lovely! Thank you so much.

Your pictures show the peanut butter in the fridge, but I strongly dislike fridged PB. How long should I look at it for shelf-life?
teamom April 8, 2012
Ah, a further comment about storing basil - every year my father starts a plethora of basil from seed. He doesn't eat it, he just likes to see it grow. Before the plant flowers, and when the stems are strong, I harvest some, usually cutting the plant in two. Like flowers, I take off the lower leaves, then put the stems in H2O. It needs no refrigeration. The bonus is that where the leaves have been removed, roots will appear, and one can actually replant the plant.
teamom April 8, 2012
ECMenard, thank-you, thank-you! I've been in the US for 10 yrs now, and am on a campaign to teach people NOT to put their coffee in the freezer. Especially coffee that it vacuum packed (my mom does this and it drives me to distraction). Tea does not belong in the fridge/freezer, spices do not either, for all the same reasons that you listed for coffee. Thanks again!
Lesley April 6, 2012
There seems to be quite a bit of beer in this fridge ;)
cruzich April 4, 2012
This is a very helpful article, thanks! One question - you said, "eggs in the United States, unlike in Europe, are washed before sale so they lose their protective outer layer." At what point in the process? I get my eggs from an organic delivery grocer who (I think) gets them straight from the farm - is it OK to store these on the counter?
BoulderGalinTokyo April 4, 2012
Frozen beans that have been boiled, anyone know how long they last frozen?
LeBec F. April 4, 2012
if you mean dry beans (adzuki, pinto, cannelini, etc) then>>forever. 1-2 yrs imo.
BoulderGalinTokyo April 5, 2012
No, dried beans, soaked, then boiled, then frozen. How long to they last in freezer? Thank you.
LeBec F. April 5, 2012
yes, dried beans- that's what i was talking about for 1-2 yrs.
BoulderGalinTokyo April 5, 2012
Oh, thank you. LBF
ECMenard April 4, 2012
As a person who has worked in the specialty coffee industry, I can tell you that the last place one should store coffee is in the freezer. Coffee is porous and can absorb lingering smells quite easily. What is more, freezing allows water molecules to attach to the bean hastening spoilage. Instead, a person should store coffee like they store red wine: in a cool, dark place. And remember, unused coffee is only good for 14 days after the roast date. So if you don't think you can use it by then, don't buy as much.
LeBec F. April 4, 2012
That's really helpful info;thx.
BoulderGalinTokyo April 4, 2012
Oh my, have I been doing that wrong. Only 14 days from roasting?
Kitchen B. April 3, 2012
Especially love the method for freezing fish - you learn everyday.
LeBec F. April 3, 2012
This is a very comprehensive and well-done piece, so thank you! I do have differing views/suggestions on four items:
1) citrus (clementines in specific) dry out when stored on a counter. I keep them in the frig.

2)in general, the more surface area exposed to the freezer, the more the 'degradation' of the food item. So with citrus zest, i recommend using a vegetable peeler to remove wide strips to be frozen. To ultimately use the frozen zest, if you want to use in a dessert that includes sugar, chop and add the citrus peel to a recipe's sugar in a mini processor and grind it; the citrus flavor really gets into the sugar this way (this works well for creme brulee, cookies, cakes, buttercreams etc.) If using citrus zest for a non-dessert, mince by hand the amount you need or run the large piece of peel over a microplaner.

3) Beef and Chicken (etc)Stocks: No way do I ever have room in my freezers to store stock. When I make any stock, after chilling and removing the fat layer, I significantly reduce/cook down the stock to a rather rubbery dark colored 'demi glace' (half ice). I pour the demi into a rectangular tub, freeze it, flip it out onto a cutting board and cut it into cubes and then toss the cubes into a tub or ziploc bag. (Waste of saran to wrap each cube separately.)

4) Soup and sauce storage: Black plastic rectangular take-out containers are ideal for freezing soups and sauces, but I use them to hold/give shape to the food, not to store the food. I line my rectangles with saran that hangs over the sides. I fill the saran with a pre-measured amount of soup or sauce or stew (like 1 or 2 people's worth of soup.) Then I place the containers on a rimmed sheet pan and freeze them flat. Once frozen, i flip out the containers and tightly wrap the overhanging saran - around the product. I label the product and stack them in a ziploc bag.(This takes up much less space than stacked up containers with their raised lids.) Rectangles and squares fit much better than rounds into a packed freezer.

I practice these techniques with liquids because I am a batch cook i.e. I always make and freeze multiple servings of each thing. For soups and stews, it's usually at least 10 servings. It hardly takes any more time to cook 10 servings of something than it does to cook 4 servings of something.
Brette W. April 4, 2012
Thanks so much for these suggestions. Super helpful.
LeBec F. April 8, 2012
great, brette. Here are photos:
bas26 September 8, 2015
Great suggestions for freezing items flat. Now I know what to do with those takeout containers. Thanks!
midnitechef April 3, 2012
Thanks for the meat freezer times, I generally go by a 6 month rule and never freeze fish, I buy it the day I want to cook it.