Room Temperature or Refrigerate: How to Store Common Foods and Leftovers

To refrigerate or not to refrigerate? Even the seasoned kitchen experts among us often don’t know which foods to put in the fridge after opening and which not to. Living in Arizona, the temptation to refrigerate foods that may not necessarily need to be is even stronger, since the temperature of our houses is often so high. Not refrigerating foods that need to be seems more dangerous than accidentally refrigerating foods that don’t need to be, but when you put foods in the fridge that are better at room temperature, you are drying them out and detracting from the flavor.

raw potatoes in bowl


Here are some common foods that need refrigerating:


  • Sealed cured meats: Meats, like pastrami or summer sausage, bought in sealed or vacuum sealed package are fine to be left at room temperature before they’re opened. Often, that is how you buy them. However, once opened, they can spoil, and the meat should be wrapped up and put in the fridge.
  • Peanut butter: Once opened, the oils from the peanuts can separate from the solids and cause the nuts to go rancid or stale. This is especially true in hot climates, like Arizona, and when buying natural peanut butters or ground nuts. In fact, all nuts go rancid in the heat and should be kept in the fridge.
  • Coconut oil: Coconut oil is a supposedly a solid at room temperature, but if you live in Arizona, you know that is not always true. The oil becomes liquid at 75 degrees and above, so the coconut oil in our pantries are almost always going to be liquid. The heat and light break down the oil over time, so it should be kept in the refrigerator for best use.
  • Leftover pies and baked goods: A lot of us like to keep leftover pies, cake, and cookies out on the counter so our families remember to eat them. However, remember that many of the ingredients used to make the pie came from the fridge. For this reason, leftover baked goods should always be kept in the fridge, because they can easily spoil.
  • Nuts: According to the University of California, nuts become rancid over a period of time if stored at room temperature and should be stored in the refrigerator. Nuts stored in the refrigerator will keep their freshness for about a year, or for two years if stored in the freezer. While rancid nuts are not unsafe to eat, they do have a markedly different taste than fresh nuts that most people don’t like.


If any of those surprised you, you may also be keeping some foods in the fridge that don’t need to be, which will retain their taste better at room temperature – even the high room temperatures in Arizona homes.


  • Coffee: Many of us keep coffee in the fridge or freezer thinking it will last longer and stay fresher, but that is actually not the case. According to the National Coffee Association, the moisture in the fridge will dampen the coffee and cause it to lose flavor. They say that the best way to store your coffee is in an airtight glass or plastic container at room temperature.
  • Hot sauce: Even opened, hot sauce can be kept at room temperature. It is vinegar based and won’t spoil, even when kept at hotter room temperatures.
  • Potatoes: Regardless of the variety of potato, potatoes lose their flavor in the fridge and should be kept at room temperature. For best results, transfer them from the plastic bag they come in to a paper bag, since plastic bags trap moisture and can spread decay.
  • Bread: Refrigerating bread may cause it to last longer without molding, but it dries it out fast. If eating a loaf within four days, keeping it at room temperature should work fine, and you can always freeze whatever is left over.


Take out some of these foods and make room for the foods you have been leaving out on the counter than need to be chilled. A little rearranging could make a big difference in how long you find your food lasting.


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