Know Your Pantry
The pantry serves as a catchall for foods of all kinds. But it takes just one taste of rancid oil, a whiff of moldy jelly, or the sight of drippy prosciutto to know that not all food stores well at room temperature. Many people simply check the label and if it doesn’t say refrigerate, the item goes into the pantry. Some foods, however, last longer, taste better, and stay safer when stored in the refrigerator or freezer, even if the label doesn’t explicitly say so. Though it may make your jaw drop (and stomach turn) to learn this, the following items, many of which are considered pantry staples, should never be stored there.
Garlic-Infused Olive Oil
Homemade garlic-infused olive oil can potentially contain botulinum spores, which grow into the bacteria that cause botulism, a food poisoning that attacks the body’s nerves and can be fatal. Fresh garlic tends to carry botulinum spores, so any oil infused with garlic should be kept in the refrigerator to prevent bacteria growth. Even then, throw it away after seven days.
Pure Maple Syrup (Especially Organic)
After enjoying a plate of pancakes dripping with pure maple syrup, you may be tempted to stash that syrup back in the pantry without giving it another thought. Pure maple syrup, however, especially the organic kind, can go moldy, so it’s best stored in the fridge. Need another argument in favor of cold storage? If you store your syrup in the pantry and the container is opaque, you may not see the mold until you’ve started to pour syrup on your short stack.
Sunflower and Truffle Oil
Cold-pressed oils like sunflower and truffle oil have a short shelf life if they’re not refrigerated. As they’re pricier than some of their counterparts, it’s definitely worth keeping them cold to extend their usefulness.
When stored in the pantry, nuts are more likely to go stale than grow moldy. That said, if you frequently reach for the nuts, you may be leaving bacteria behind, and if you grab a few nuts while your hands are wet, the chance that bacteria will grow increases. Over time, you could end up with nuts that are both stale and bacteria-laden. Don’t run the risk; store them in the refrigerator.
Salami and Other Cured Meats
You might see “shelf-stable” printed on their packaging, but cured meats are prone to drying out if opened and stored in the pantry. Wrap the meat in butcher paper and refrigerate it to preserve its flavor and texture, and to protect you from potential illness.
You can significantly extend the life of chocolate by storing it in the refrigerator rather than the pantry. Before you stick it in the fridge, wrap chocolate tightly to protect it from condensation and prevent it from absorbing odors and flavors from other foods. Once the chocolate is wrapped, put it in an airtight container until you’re ready to use it.
Though tortillas are rarely served cold, it’s best to store them in the fridge. Whether you prefer flour or corn tortillas, they’ll stay fresher longer if kept at a regulated cold temperature after you open the package. When it’s time for tacos, allow the tortillas to gradually warm up to room temperature or pop them in the oven.
Whole-grain flours retain the bran and germ that gets removed from all-purpose flours. Both bran and germ contain oils that can go rancid if they’re not refrigerated or frozen, so keep your all-purpose flour in the pantry, but move the whole-grain to the fridge.
Natural Peanut Butter
Most mustard containers indicate that refrigeration isn’t necessary after opening. But mustard loses its flavor and vibrant color fairly quickly. To keep it tasting and looking its best, keep mustard in the refrigerator.
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