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Refrigerator Space Issues--what MUST be Refrigerated?

After experiencing a 60 hour power outage (horrible!), I'm cleaning out my refrigerator and garage freezer.

What struck me, is when I discarded the perishables, the fridge was still quite full.

What I mean is, between the open jars of olives, sun-dried tomatoes, peppers, pickles, maple syrup, myriad of condiments, salad dressings, Rose's lime syrup & grenadine, etc., there is little room for anything else!

What can I either move to the pantry or freezer to make my refrigerator more "user-friendly"?

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  1. I'm not sure how we can answer this. There are some foods that should be refrigerated when opened. Do you have any specific foodstuff in mind that you are unsure about? Everything you listed above should be refriderated when opened.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Darren72

      I know, that's my problem!

      I'm wondering if maple syrup MUST be refrigerated though (It's a very big bottle). Also, do olives have to be refrigerated? Perhaps I could freeze my sun-dried tomatoes (also a huge bottle).

      Just looking for ideas... It's a real drag trying to put things away after a trip to the market.

      1. re: Funwithfood

        Here is some info on maple syrup. The upshot is that you should keep it in the fridge or freezer after you open it. If it's a big bottle, you could always freeze part of it.

        Most things can be freezed. The bigger question is what can be kept, once opened, in the pantry.

        1. re: Darren72

          Some may disagree, but we keep things like lousianna-style hot sauce, fish sauce, and worcestershire in the pantry for space reasons. I am recently experimenting with mustard as well to see if it gets moldy when not in the fridge. We have so many little condiment bottles in the refrigerator that sometimes it seems there is room for little else.

          1. re: LizATL

            Anything that is mostly vinegar (the hot sauce, ketsup) will generally be fine in the pantry. I like your idea of experimenting. You'd certainly know by mold or a terrible smell if something was off.

            1. re: LizATL

              We keep the same condiments as you in the pantry. Also mustard, oyster sauce (seems to depend on the quality, cheap oyster sauce will go moldy), chutneys and preserves. And chili oil, chili sauce (sriracha) and various other Asian hot sauces/pastes/oils. I try to keep track of how these look. It's possible that because we use all of these regularly, we're using them up before they can spoil.

              We've kept maple syrup on the shelf too, but the last two half-gallons developed mold. My friend told me the mold was safe so we scooped it off and heated the syrup to boiling, then put it in the fridge. It tasted fine and the mold didn't redevelop.

              We still have far too many things in the fridge, mostly homemade with no preservatives.

              1. re: LizATL

                My mother for years kept the salad mustard unrefrigrated after opening. We would not by the gallon jugs but would buy family size and never had any trouble. We lived in Charleston SC where before AC in the summer the shoes and pocketbooks would turn green from the mold and mildew but the mustard stayed yellow.

              2. re: Darren72

                Wow. I've never in my life refrigerated maple syrup. Anything with high concentrations of sugar, oil or vinegar should be fine unrefrigerated. Those substances were used for years to preserve foods before refrigeration. Why do you think people invented pickling, brining, etc.

          2. There are pathogenic (bad) bacteria that can survive in a salty environment (Staph Aureus, the classic left-the-potato-salad-out-too-long-food-poisoning bacteria) thrives in a salty environment. Fish sauces are, generally produced using a bacteria, as are olives and soy sauce (and, well, lots of foods), but I still wouldn't leave anything that says "refrigerate after opening" out of the fridge. Mold is one thing - you can see it and smell it, but bacterial contamination may not be sensed and can make you sick.

            5 Replies
            1. re: MollyGee

              Oh, I suffer, too. I would like a "just sauces" fridge.

              I was stopped when you said "fish sauce" and "I wouldn't leave anything...out" in the same sentence. I can't read the label on the fish sauce, and it is in a ginormous bottle. Do you think this needs to be refrigerated?

              1. re: liu

                Here's a previous discussion on fish sauce:


                Someone actually said their bottle says *not* to refrigerate it. Can you find someone to read the bottle for you?

                1. re: MollyGee

                  I get my Fish sauce from an Asian store and it specifically says "do not refrigerate" even after opening. It smells kinda bad anyway, so who knows if it's gone off!


                  1. re: TexasToast

                    Very funny, TexasToast!

                    Several Hounds have confirmed that fish sauce does NOT need to be refrigerated, and I am glad to hear it once again. There is no English on my bottle, and the "good stuff" does not seem to be available in small bottles! It has been in my cabinet for a few months now, and it seems fine...but as you have pointed out, how would we know!

                    1. re: TexasToast

                      Well, it is *off* in that fermentation is a form of rotting. It's probably as "off" as it's going to get. I didn't mean to suggest that there is a danger in not refrigerating it; just that if something says "refrigerate" you should. Interestingly, I noticed my French's yellow mustard says "For best flavor, refrigerate after opening" which suggests it's a flavor issue rather than a health one.

              2. I was the OP on that, and -- after having read through all the responses -- I was under the impression that I did NOT need to refrigerate fish sauce.

                However, days later, you caught my attention here and I thought perhaps you had inside info specifically about fish sauce! WHEW...because it is in the cabinet and it will take awhile to get through this rather large bottle that I have no room for in my fridge (whine, whine)!

                2 Replies
                1. re: liu

                  I have never bothered to refrigerate fish sauce because no Chinese person I know does. I just checked my current bottle and it says nothing about refrigeration.

                  1. re: cheryl_h

                    I thank you for voting this way, and my fridge thanks you!

                2. Consider picking up a copy of "Keeping Food Fresh", by Janet Bailey, a handy reference on how to select and store nearly every type of food. It's one of my most-frequently consulted kitchen books. $3 used on Amazon. It has saved me a ton of money.

                  1 Reply
                  1. I feel your pain Funwithfood. We just got out of that same 3 day run without power and I too now have a fridge full of sauces and condiments. My big problem is lack of pantry space so I keep most things refrigerated just because I really have nowhere else to put it. I would say leave the olives in the fridge. I just saw a bottle at my local grocer that had been opened by someone and left on the shelf that had started to expand the metal lid on the glass bottle and the insides looked terrible. I had to get an ice chest to save some of my frozen meats (which I cooked yesterday and am now refreezing) but I kept my fish sauce on the ice just in case.

                    Glad you made it through!! That was horrible, wasn't it??? I was sad to throw so much away but on the bright side I now have a spotless fridge with more room for yummy stuff!!!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: wendy8869

                      Wendy8869, fortunately a friend (non-cook) offered me her nearly empty freezer to use, which I finally did at the 48 hour mark (was in denial before that).

                      Because my freezer was packed so tight, most of my meat items are salvagable. My time-consuming sweet and savory tarts were soft and thus re-frozen--my fingers are crossed!

                      Have you thought of buying a small cupboard (that looks somewhat decorative) to put in another area of your home to use for extra pantry space (thrift stores & estate sales are great resources).

                      On the olives issue, I use them so rarely, but they take up so much room...has anyone ever frozen olives? If so, how did they turn out?

                      Also, I wonder what would happen if I froze my maple syrup in small, 1-cup containers... Has anyone frozen maple syrup?

                      1. re: Funwithfood

                        In a reply above, I provided a link with info regarding freezing maple syrup.

                        1. re: Darren72

                          Duh--thanks. I think that is what I will do, as we use it so infrequently.

                    2. I know it's wrong, but I hate when people keep butter in the fridge. It takes too long to soften and use on bread, so I just keep mine out and hope that because it's salted and oily nothing nasty will grow. I figure if I replace the stick every week I should be okay. But I'm sure some wise chowhounder can tell me just exactly what nasty stuff is getting spread all over my bagel. Personally, I think Americans can be a little too hypervigilent about this sort of thing...

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: erikka

                        I don't put my butter in the fridge either. Neither one of my grandmothers did and if it's good enough for them, it's good for me! I love being able to put soft, creamy butter directly on my bread without ripping the bread to shreds.

                        1. re: geg5150

                          I don't know where either of you live but around Boston, any butter not refrigerated would turn into an oily puddle in the summer heat waves.

                          1. re: cheryl_h

                            This French butter crock works really well to keep the butter soft, but not a puddle, even at a humid 103F in Kansas! http://www.leepots.com/french_butter_...

                            On a side note, I didn't know you were supposed to refrigerate maple syrup... I, as well as my mom, have always kept it in the pantry!

                            1. re: Katie Nell

                              I live in Boston and have something like this: http://webexhibits.org/butter/crocks.... that I use during the summer for my butter. I can't find the exact one I use, but it seems fine to me.

                              1. re: Katie Nell

                                Ooh, that's nice! I have a little dish w/ cover but that's way nicer. It's perfectly shaped and who cares if the butter melts a bit and loses it's stick shape? It still taste like butter...

                                I didn't know maple syrup went in the fridge either until I had roommates and they were horrified when I left it out. But that was Ms. Butterworth--I wonder if *real* maple syrup is different.

                                Another thing I hate cold: peanut butter. Unless it's the hippie organic must be refrigerated kind it'lljust get hard and tear holes in your bread.

                                1. re: erikka

                                  Real 100% maple syrup need not be refrigerated. It can be frozen indefinitely as well. It will not solidify, just run some warm water over the opening to get it flowing again. But in the cupboard is fine. I've always left my Ms.B syrups out too.

                                2. re: Katie Nell

                                  reply to erikka: ooh, yes, down with cold peanut butter!! Blech!

                                  1. re: Katie Nell

                                    There's no need to refrigerate any peanut butter -- organic peanut butter isn't any more likely to spoil than any other. I guess it could become rancid a little sooner, but not if you store it properly (in a tightly closed jar in a dark place). Since hippy-dippy peanut butter separates more than more processed brands, it's even more important to keep it at room temp, so you can stir it.

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      hey hey-- speaking as one of those 'hippy-dippies', natural peanut butter does need refrigerated so that the oil doesn't separate after every use. And if you haven't tried natural peanut butter, you should!: it actually tastes like peanuts!

                                      We've had butter (uncovered! eeek!) in our cupboard for generations, in climates even warmer than steamy Boston... Same with imitation syrup (my goonie roomies have been insisting on refrigerating the aunt jemima in our house of 10 college guys. They also have delusions of butter-puddles)

                            2. There's no reason to refrigerate fish sauce.

                              Prior to refrigeration, people used salt, sugar, or vinegar to preserve things. That's why they call jams and jellies "preserves."

                              1. I had this discussion recently at a cook out, about ketchup. My whole life, ketchup was refrigerated after opening (as the Heinz bottle tells you you are supposed to). I have always done it, but I really don't like my ketchup cold. So, as I sat at this gathering with several people who have lived long healthy lives with pantry stored ketchup, I realized it does not, in fact need to be refrigerated.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Justpaula

                                  Growing up, the ketchup was never in the fridge. It was in the cupboard. It was only after the kids moved out that my mom started putting it in the fridge, because it didn't get used fast enough and would go off. It's really easy to see when ketchup goes off. It gets really dark and the container gets bloated.

                                2. If it says, "refrigerate after opening" take it seriously. Recently I discovered mold in some things I though were not perishable at room temperature: jam and maple syrup.

                                  1. Generally speaking, I wouldnt fridge anything that was heavy with oil, sugars or vinegar as all are natural preservatives. So stuff like worcestershire sauce, pickles, mustards, ketchup, olives (in oil) maple syrup and the like, go in the cupboard. Usually shop-bought jams and marmalade would as well - but I find farmers market ones normally need the fridge.

                                    1. First off, be thankful your fridge was packed - the thermal mass of the in there keeps the fridge much cooler than if it were empty. Saves electricity, too.

                                      That said, there are two reasons to refrigerate food - quality and safety. Even if food is completely safe at room temperature, it may begin to lose freshness if it isn't refrigerated. Commercial mayonnaise, for example, doesn't need to be refrigerated. But it taste better for longer if it is. So the label says "refrigerate after opening" even though food safety does not require refrigeration.

                                      Once you make chicken salad with that mayonnaise, though, you need to be a little more careful. The chicken (not the mayo) is a pretty good bacterial growth medium.

                                      Things like olives and pickles are brined - and brining was how things were preserved before the days of refrigeration. If you're going to be working on that 5 gallon bucket of kosher dills from Costco for the next year, you probably want to stash it in the fridge. But a week's worth of green olives? Refrigeration is not necessary.

                                      Sugar is another ancient way of preserving things. So jams, jellies, grenadine, Rose's, maple syrup, etc. don't need refrigeration. But if you're going to keep them in the pantry, you want to make sure you don't introduce any new life forms into the jar. If you're going to lick the peanut butter off the knife before dipping it in the jelly jar, you should probably keep the jelly in the fridge. And again, if that bottle of Rose's is going to last you several months, the quality will be better if you refrigerate it.

                                      In my house, hot sauces, peanut butter, soy sauce, fish sauce, oils, syrups, and the like all live in the cupboards. Things like mayonnaise, salad dressings, and infrequently-used sauces stay in the fridge. But what you refrigerate will depend on your buying and eating habits.