How to store (and not to store) food in the summertime

Knowing how to store food in the summertime properly is key to keep herbs fresh, watermelon juicy, and fish, edible

Open fridge with chilled colorful food
(Image credit: Getty Images | Karen Moskowitz 90607204)

If you want to know how to store food in the summertime, you’re asking yourself an important question. As temperatures rise with the arrival of the warm season, your kitchen will be getting much hotter. Add the heat of cooking, and you may be tempted to just put all your food in the fridge to prevent it from spoiling.

This sounds like a good strategy and purely from the point of view of food safety it is. But even the best fridge isn’t always the best place to store every type of produce. In fact, chilling some foods excessively may affect their taste and texture. 

On the other hand, there are ongoing debates about some foods, especially eggs: should they be stored in the fridge, at least during summer, or not? We’ve asked food experts to answer the most common questions about summer food storage

How to store food in the summertime

If you find wondering whether you put this or that food item in the fridge soon enough stressful (we definitely do), then Laura Bais has a failsafe tip for you. Laura is an expert in all things food and owns the food blog Julie's Cafe Bakery. She recommends eating fresh as much as possible during summer: ‘eat fresh goods that require short heat treatment, and each day a new meal.’

This may mean adjusting your cooking routine if you like your leftovers, but a lot of cases of food poisoning during the summer months are caused by cooked food that wasn’t put in the fridge soon enough and then reheated. The Minnesota Department of Health advises that food shouldn’t be left out for longer than two hours, but with some cooked foods even one hour may be too long. This especially applies to cooked rice.

You’ll also need to rethink humidity levels in your kitchen. Rachel Scott, Co-Founder and Medical Practitioner of National TASC LLC, explains that ‘bacteria and molds love a moist environment and, in the summertime, there is sure to be a lot of vapor in the air, so moisture formation is highly likely.’

Basically, your food is much more likely to spoil because it’s hot and humid rather than just because it’s hot. Scott’s proposed solution is investing in a dehumidifier for your kitchen for the summer months. Or, failing that using ‘food-grade silica gels in food containers to keep them dry.’ Food-grade silica gel packets can be bought on Amazon.

How to store tomatoes during the summer

The trick with storing tomatoes, whether in or out of the fridge, is not storing them next to produce that will speed up the spoiling of your tomatoes. Scott tells us that it is essential to ‘separate tomatoes from other high-ethylene producing vegetables and fruits with the normal ones to store them for longer durations. The hormone ethylene speeds up deterioration and spoilage, especially during the summer season.’ Store your tomatoes away from bananas, peaches, melons, and peppers.

How to store root vegetables during the summer

Root veggies are known for keeping longer than juicy fruit and vegetables – but that doesn’t mean you can store them indefinitely. While they will do fine for months either in the fridge or in a cool, dark place like a pantry or cellar, there’s a very good reason not to store them for too long. Bais explains that ‘Long storing (just like heat treatment) reduces the amount of vitamin C, so it is advisable to cook potatoes to preserve this vitamin that is sensitive to elevated temperatures.’ Basically, cook and eat your potatoes, beets, and carrots within a few weeks of buying them, or you won’t reap the nutritional benefits of these vegetables.

Cooked vegetables, ‘should be cooled as quickly as possible to avoid the development of microorganisms.’

How to store fish during the summer

Want to know how to store oysters in the fridge? Easy: just place them in a container, flat side up, and cover them with a damp (not wet) cloth. They will keep for up to five days. You can freeze oysters, but their flavor and texture will change, so only do this if you plan on chucking your oysters in a fish stew.

Other fish and shellfish is also best stored in the coldest compartment of your fridge for up to four-five days. The same rule applies: freeze your fish/seafood if you like, but be prepared for a change in texture and taste afterwards. Be sure to keep your freezer organized with labels and the like also so that you can mark up the dates on which you freeze your items.

Top tip from Bais: ‘softer fish (such as river fish) should be sprayed with lemon juice or vinegar before cooking - this way the meat becomes firmer and does not fall apart during cooking.’

How to store fruit during summer

Have a bumper crop of strawberries? There is good news. Bais says that ‘fruits can be preserved by deep freezing while preserving vitamin C and other important nutrients.’ You can store strawberries in freezer bags, either cut or whole. Just make sure you know how to wash strawberries and thoroughly dry them before freezing.

As a general rule, any fruit that is high in water content, such as berries and cut melon or watermelon, should be stored in the fridge. Fruit that is uncut and has a skin (mango, peaches, and bananas) will be fine for several in your fruit bowl so long as it’s not in direct sunlight.

How to keep herbs fresh

The biggest problems with herbs are wilt and rot, and it can be difficult to keep them fresh even in the fridge. To prolong the life of your herb garden produce (if only by a few days), you should do two things: make sure they get a little air and sandwich the leaves between moistened paper towels. The paper towels will prevent water loss, while the air circulation will prevent the rot. You can expect mint and parsley to last this way for up to a week.

Should eggs be kept in the fridge when it's hot?

According to the FDA, you should store eggs ‘in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40° F or below. Use a refrigerator thermometer to check.’ Your eggs won’t go off immediately if you choose to store them outside of the fridge, but they won’t last as long. Boiled eggs should always be refrigerated and eaten within one week. That is only if they’re hard-boiled; soft-boiled eggs should be eaten immediately.

What foods should not be refrigerated?

The number one item that people store in the fridge although they shouldn’t is bread. Bread actually goes stale and tasteless in the fridge quicker than it will in your pantry.

Also, never store oils and honey in the fridge – they will solidify and you won’t be able to use them properly.

Finally, coffee should not be kept in the fridge, ever. You will ruin the flavor – and it won’t last any longer. Store it in an airtight container in your pantry.

Anna is a professional writer with many years of experience. She has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. She covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.