Knowing which foods can stay on the counter and which should be fridged is not always easy. Of course, milk and cheese are no-brainers (cold) as are crackers and cereal (room temp). But what about the butter in the butter dish? And the fresh basil from the store — can it sit on the counter in a glass of water, like on TV cooking shows?

Lest you care to suffer plastic-y tomatoes or spoiled eggs or herbs that could make you sick, heed this advice from Alissa Rumsey, RD, and Sarah Krieger, MPH, RDN, registered dietitians and spokespeople for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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Keep these foods cold

Cut produce. Lemons look pretty in a bowl on your dining room table, but once you’ve sliced into one for your seltzer, it needs refrigeration. The same goes for just about any piece of produce you can think of (apples, avocado, onions, melons and more). “Once an item has been sliced or diced, oxygen will quickly deteriorate the cells of the fruit or veggie and bacteria can invade within two hours,” warns Krieger. Cover the cut portion of the fruit or vegetable with plastic wrap or stash it in a resealable bag.

Butter. Soft butter is easier to spread, but keeping it in a cute little crock on the counter isn’t wise. “You risk illness and spoilage when you don’t store this dairy item in the fridge,” says Rumsey. And don't put it on the door, either; put it in the back of the fridge, which is colder. 

Eggs. Farmers stack these pretty orbs in pyramids at the farmer’s market, but you should keep your eggs cold. “Farmers in the U.S. aren’t required to vaccinate their hens against salmonella, so since not all of them do this, eggs should be stored in the fridge to decrease the risk of foodborne illness,” says Rumsey.

Sturdy herbs. This means the more hardy, branch-like ones including rosemary, thyme and chives. “These do best when they’re covered loosely with a plastic bag and placed on the door of the fridge where it’s slightly warmer than the interior,” says Rumsey.

Most condiments. From mayo and BBQ sauce to ketchup and teriyaki marinade, if you’ve opened a bottle to complement your meal, it needs to be stored in the refrigerator.

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Leave these foods out


Tomatoes. These ruby beauties should never be chilled (unless, of course, you’ve sliced them up). “Tomatoes become dull and mealy if stored at a cold temperature,” notes Rumsey. Popping them in the fridge also will slow the ripening process and rob them of flavor. Display your bounty on the kitchen counter. (Photo: Anna Bogush/Shutterstock)

Bananas. As with tomatoes, bananas don’t like the cold. “When they’re in whole form, bananas ripen best and retain their taste and texture at room temperature,” says Krieger. If you do place them in the fridge, they’ll blacken because the browning enzymes speed up in the cold, explains Rumsey. 

Soy sauce. Asian restaurants leave these bottles out all day and night — and so can you. Soy sauce is fermented, so an open container can be kept out for up to a year. Hot sauce has a similar storage profile: its high-acid content allows it to stay fresh while unrefrigerated for a year as well. (While soy sauce is the main ingredient in teriyaki preparations, the other components in it need to be kept cold, which is why the fridge is the best spot). 

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Coffee. These fragile beans, whether ground or whole, will quickly lose their flavor if stored in the fridge. “The refrigerator can also transfer various odors to beans or ground coffee, so it’s better to store it at room temp and use it within two weeks,” explains Krieger. To keep coffee for longer, wrap it well and pop it in the freezer.

Bread. Keeping this carb on the counter means it can get moldy faster, but the fridge robs it of moisture and taste. “Place bread on the counter and finish it in four or five days,” suggests Rumsey. If your family doesn’t eat up the loaf that quickly, double wrap it and keep it in the freezer, then thaw to enjoy later.

Bunch of basil in water

Soft herbs. The leaves of more delicate greens (basil, parsley, cilantro) will turn black in the refrigerator, so your best bet is to display them. “Trim the ends, place them in a glass with an inch or so of water and leave the bouquet on a windowsill or kitchen counter,” says Rumsey. (Photo: ziashusha/Shutterstock)

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Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a New York City-based writer and editor who specializes in parenting, health and child development. She’s also the mom of two teen girls.