Store in a cool and dry place. You see this storage instruction over, and over, and over again on nearly all canned and packaged foods you buy at the grocery store. Yet many home cooks end up asking themselves, just like you most probably did before coming to this blog post: What does this really mean?
When the label on a food item says to store it in a cool and dry place, that item should be stored at room temperature (68-77°F), ideally inside cabinet, cupboard, pantry, or cellar, as their relative humidity is approximately 80%.
To maximize the life of canned and packaged foods, keep them away from direct sunlight and common sources of heat in your kitchen.
So you can rule out a windowsill or sunlit countertop, as the continual exposure to sunlight can shorten the shelf life of most foods.
The most common sources of heat in your kitchen are your range and, contrary to what most home cooks think, any spot that’s in close proximity to the fridge. Fridges work by moving heat from their cooling boxes to the outside space, which means that, on the outside (and especially in the back), they are sources of heat.
Which Places Are Not Cool or Dry?
The top of the fridge is actually a pretty warm place. Warm air rises to the top, and the cooling system of the fridge continually pushes it outside. So any products that you’ve stored on top of (or close to) the top of your fridge is usually heated above room temperature.
Kitchen shelves and counters are generally more exposed to direct sunlight and room humidity because they are open. Instead of storing food products on them, use them for storing cookware and tableware like pans, pots, utensils, plates, cups, and glasses.
Humidity is a measurement of how much moisture there is in the atmosphere of a confined space compared to how much moisture there could be at that temperature. For example, 50% humidity at 35° F is less moisture than 50% humidity at 70° F because warmer air holds more moisture.
When the humidity in a space you’ve dedicated for storage is low, less moisture builds up on the tin cans and glass jar lids, which may compromise their integrity and, as a result, foster bacterial growth.
Is the Fridge a Cool and Dry Place?
The fridge is not a good place for storing foods that should be kept in a cool and dry place. “Cool” refers to a temperature between 68°F and 77°F, whereas a fridge operates below 40°F. Fridges are also not a dry place, as the humidity level inside the box rises whenever you open the door.
When you open the door of the fridge, moisture from your kitchen condenses on the items, shelves, and walls inside it. As an effect, it raises the humidity inside the fridge for several hours.
The food items you’re storing in your fridge can also affect the level of humidity inside it. An open container of warm soup, for example, will release its moisture content in the form of vapor, bringing the level of humidity up.
The moisture inside a fridge eventually collects, in the form of frost, on its evaporator coils. Every 12 or 24 hours (depending on the brand and model of your fridge), the fridge will defrost them. The moisture drips down to a tray at the bottom of the fridge, from where it evaporates back into the room.
Store canned and packaged foods in a cool, dry, and closed space like a kitchen cabinet, cupboard, pantry, or cellar.
Use open shelves and counters for storing cookware and eatware, but not foods. The direct exposure to sunlight and higher level of humidity is not ideal for storing food products.
Contrary to popular belief, the fridge is not really a very dry place. That’s why it’s not always ideal for storing dried products (for long-term storage, it’s much better to freeze products rather than refrigerate them).