I don't keep much food in the house, and generally use the fridge as a general purpose store for all kinds of food, as a way to slow down chemical reactions and lifeform growth alike, as well as spending less time considering the type of storage for a particular item.

However I've recently experienced some potential pitfalls, some honey has solidified into what could be a crystalline sugar solution, and a recent, official peanutButter/marmite mix developed a thin, non-fury, jelly like, yellow layer on some of its surface, apparently these are due to keeping the foods in an environment that is too cold.

Is it true that there are trade-offs either way regarding heat?

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    I’m confused. What do you hope to accomplish by refrigerating honey? – Sneftel Apr 9 at 22:10
  • Less consideration of where to put the limited selection of things I keep in the kitchen. It doesn't seem to use more energy, and I can view everything in a single glance. – alan2here Apr 9 at 22:12
  • The answers show various different trade offs, very interesting and helpful. – alan2here Apr 14 at 14:23

Many food items, particularly those containing oils, but many others too, will change characteristics when cold. The good news is that keeping honey and most other things at fridge temperature does not generally affect flavour, but it may affect texture permanently. Oils and other substances that can go rancid will generally keep better in the fridge than at room temperature as the lower temperature will help slow the chemical reactions that make oils rancid.

You have observed a characteristic change with your honey, where it has gone crystalline because you have lowered the temperature to a point where the sugar solution is now saturated and crystals form. The crystals should re-dissolve when heated gently to above room temperature. Honey is one substance that will usually store more or less indefinitely at room temperature without spoilage.

Peanut butter is another one that you might see, where the oil may separate and solidify at fridge temperature. The suspension of ground peanuts in oil may also become lumpy and/or difficult to manipulate because of the solidification of the oils. In some cases (particularly things with a high oil content, like Nutella) the solidification will result in permanent texture change as some of the components will separate from the oils, clump together, and can not be easily returned to a homogeneous mixture by your regular stirring methods.

In some cases it may be difficult to tell a state change from a contamination. For instance, oils generally go from clear to translucent, and may form globs/lumps that might be mistaken for bacterial colonies. Separation of liquids from gel-like substances may be a result of storage at too low a temperature or as a result of bacterial or fungal contamination. However, if you have any doubts about the safety of a particular food it is always best to throw it out

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    In practice I've rarely been able to restore crystallised honey for long. My kitchen gets cold enough for crystallisation so even runny honey goes solid in winter, and while a bowl of hot water sorts it out for a while, it always goes solid again within a few days after that (even once the weather warms up, and even if I reheat the water so it's hot for ages) – Chris H Apr 12 at 6:10
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    @ChrisH - I have noticed that too. I just wasn't sure if it was because my kitchen is also cold or if it was something routinely seen. – bob1 Apr 12 at 8:18
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    mine can get pretty warm in summer, and I don't get through honey fast, so I can buy a new jar because I'm running low and still have it unopened 6 months later - "runny" on the label, not runny inside. Even then it won't reliquify for long – Chris H Apr 12 at 8:20
  • Thanks, very helpful. I'd mark most of these answers as correct if I could, therefore I'll base the choice mostly on number of votes. – alan2here Apr 14 at 14:20

Besides the issues already mentioned, you should also beware of storing some dry goods in the fridge, especially if you live in a high-humidity area.

Basically, every time you open the container outside of the fridge, you will exchange it for more humid air. In the fridge, the moisture will condense.

If you're storing something in amounts similar to the amount that you'd use at once, this usually isn't a problem. It's more of an issue with items that are used just a little bit at a time, especially if they might clump up or have reactions to moisture (such as baking powder)

There are also a number of fruits and vegetables that may do strange things when in the fridge. (tomatoes lose flavor, potatoes get sweet, etc. See Which fruits and vegetables should be kept in a fridge, and which outside? ). Also, it traps ethylene gas, so you may have issues if you have both ethylene producing and ethylene sensitive foods in your fridge.

  • With potatoes this might be preferable, but tomato's while not dangerous also not ideal. – alan2here Apr 14 at 20:15
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    @alan2here : Other than the issue with tomatoes, it's possible that the issues that I mentioned are more long-term; if you're storing potatoes for less than a week, the sweetness issue may not be noticeable. (although bananas peels do change color rather quickly in the fridge, which I didn't specifically mention) – Joe Apr 17 at 13:53

A lot of spreadable products won't be if chilled, as the fats harden. Peanut butter is one (though how much it stiffens depends on the presence of other fats than the oil from the peanuts). Nutella stored in the fridge becomes hard enough to bend cutlery when you try to get it out.

Olive oil goes cloudy and thickens but doesn't come to any harm, though it's hard to pour small quantities at that point. Taking it out a couple of hours before use solves that.

Many baked things will lose their texture pretty quickly chilled, though this can be mitigated with tight wrapping and may be preferable to the effect of storing in a very warm place if you don't have anywhere in between.

Biting into a soft caramel-filled chocolate that has been chilled will be a surprise. The filling goes rock hard (it shatters nicely so can be smashed into nibble-sized pieces, which only become sticky when warmed)

  • Seems like it'd easily lul you into a false sense of security, waiting until you'd broken up the caramel into chunks to eat some, before the rest melt at room temperature and make a mess. – alan2here Apr 14 at 14:16
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    @alan2here quite possibly if you've runny caramel. I was partly thinking of when I've been hiking/cycling in cold weather and had to shatter my snacks to make them edible. I think the time I had to slam a Mars bar against a rock was below freezing, but I've had less extreme examples – Chris H Apr 14 at 14:26

Unless your mouldy food was simply leftovers left too long, then you have a more serious issue of cross-contamination. Toast crumbs in the butter, marmite or honey will do that & so will many things far less visible. If you have either cause you will first need to fully clean the fridge, then start over with better working practices.

As you've noticed, some foods like honey will last 'forever' at room temperature & don't need refrigeration. Some honey will eventually crystallise no matter how you keep it, if you keep it long enough.

  • Thanks. I thought that it was separation rather than mould, maybe a crumb or other contaminant got into it. I'll throw it out just in case. I've just read online that cold temperatures accelerate crystallisation of honey. – alan2here Apr 10 at 10:19
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    tbh, cross-contamination is hard to spot most of the time [because it's not usually as obvious as toast crumbs]; but if you consistently use the same knife for butter then something else or keep re-dipping into the jar, that's your most obvious source. Never re-dip, never dip into two different things with the same implement. Most people can't be bothered, but an extra knife in the washing up is worth not having to throw out half-used jars when they go furry ;) – Tetsujin Apr 10 at 10:25
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    @Tetsujin or keep fewer jars on the go and eat them up quicker. Even wiping the butter and crumbs onto the bread with the knife before dipping it in the jam helps. Actually I use a teaspoon for jam, which is wet, but not for peanut butter, Nutella or Marmite, as the odd crumb seems to be OK in those – Chris H Apr 12 at 6:23

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