To chill or not to chill is a perennial question, with everything from ketchup to eggs, bread to jam and tomatoes to salad cream subject to strongly held opinions.
Even scientists don’t always know where they stand on this debate, with the Food Standards Agency recently reversing its own advice about keeping potatoes out of the fridge.
For years it was believed that chilling them would lead to the production of acrylamide, a chemical that is thought to increase the risk of cancer. Now, it turns out, putting them in the fridge is perfectly safe.
So which items from the weekly shop should go in the fridge, and where should we keep the rest I have consulted the experts for the definitive guide and reveals why everything you — or your partner — thought you knew about your fridge is wrong…
THE TWO-HOUR LEFTOVERS RULE
Though it’s tempting to tidy leftovers as soon as you’ve finished dinner, experts say you should let them cool for two hours before putting them in the fridge.
However, the rule for rice dishes — which are especially prone to nurturing the growth of toxin-producing bacteria, so should be cooled more quickly — is an hour.
“This is because bacteria can multiply rapidly between 8C and 63C,” Ms Hall said — so you need to let the rice get cool enough to safely store away.
Putting hot food in a cold fridge is also a bad idea, because it will raise the temperature of everything around it.
Leftovers should be kept on the top shelf (the warmest bit of the main section), as far away as possible from raw meat, which should be stored on the lowest shelf so it doesn’t drip onto other foods.
When it comes to half-eaten jars and tins, such as baked beans or soup, never refrigerate them in their original packaging.
“The metal in food cans can oxidise when exposed to the air, affecting the flavour and, sometimes, the colour of the product,” explains Dr Karatzas.
NEVER CHILL YOUR TOMATO SAUCE
Condiments are a controversial subject, but the experts agree: tomato sauce doesn’t need to be kept in the fridge, along with brown sauce, mint sauce, mango chutney, soy sauce, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, pickles, jarred olives, jam, honey and vinegar.
According to Kate Hall, this is because the ingredients act as natural preservatives. “Ketchup is, for example, very high in sugar andvinegar.”
If something is acidic, as many sauces are, or high in sugar, this means water is not available to bacteria and moulds that might spoil them.
According to a Which report in 2020, even if these condiments have been opened they still don’t need to be refrigerated.
The same, however, doesn’t apply to mayonnaise, salad cream, tartare sauce, redcurrant jelly, pesto or maple syrup — all of which benefit from fridge temperatures.
This is because they feature less sugar, and — in many cases — contain dairy, which must be chilled to prevent the growth of Listeria and E. coli.
Mayonnaise should be kept in the fridge door because if it gets too cold the oil will separate out.
AND AS FOR THOSE HANDY POTATOES…
An open pot of bicarbonate of soda is said to purify circulating air in your fridge.
But now that it’s safe to put potatoes in the fridge again, there’s an even simpler way to neutralise bad odours.
Simply peel a whole potato and place it on the middle shelf. The starchy flesh sucks bad odours out of the air and makes your fridge smell fresher. Change it every two to three days until the bad smell goes away.
Experts also suggest using porridge oats, ground coffee or a halved lemon pierced with cloves.
To read the full mind-blowing analysis — including why butter doesn’t have to go in the fridge and how to make vegetables last longer — visit thewest.com.au.