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What It Means to Store Food In a Cool and Dry Place

Have you ever found yourself staring at a can of soup or a bag of chips, wondering what it really means to “store in a cool and dry place?”

You’re certainly not alone.

This storage instruction can be found on nearly all packaged foods at the grocery store, but its meaning is often unclear to home cooks.

When you’re told to store food in a cool and dry place, you should really store it in a cabinet, cupboard, pantry, or cellar at a temperature between 68 and 77°F and with a humidity level of 30 to 60%. 1Room temperature definition & meaning. Dictionary.com. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/room-temperature2American Heritage Dictionary Entry: Room Temperature. American Heritage Dictionary. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=room+temperature This ensures that the food stays fresh and doesn’t spoil prematurely.

If you want to extend the shelf life of canned and packaged foods, keep them away from direct sunlight and sources of heat. That means ruling out a sunny windowsill or sunlit countertop, as the continual exposure to sunlight and heat can speed up the spoilage process for most foods.

Always avoid storing bottled, canned, or jarred foods directly on the floor as they may freeze in the winter and become unsafe to eat. Additionally, use food storage containers to package dry foods and keep them protected from pests.

Where to Avoid: Places That Are Not Cool or Dry

Contrary to what many people think, the top of the fridge is actually a pretty warm place.

This is because warm air rises to the top, and the cooling system of the fridge continually pushes it outside. As a result, any products that you store on top of—or close to—the fridge are usually heated above room temperature.

Kitchen shelves and counters are generally more exposed to direct sunlight and room humidity because they are open and often in high-traffic areas. Instead of storing food products on them, it’s best to reserve these spaces for cookware and tableware, such as pans, pots, utensils, plates, cups, and glasses.

The storage areas near your range, cooktop, or wall oven can get hot whenever these appliances are in use. The same applies to the countertop area above your dishwasher and near your dryer, especially if you keep your washing machine in the kitchen due to limited space.

Lastly, make sure to keep dry and canned foods away from sources of heat such as furnaces, heating vents, or hot water pipes. The heat emitted from these sources can compromise the quality of your stored foods and reduce their shelf life.

Isn’t It Cool And Dry Inside the Fridge?

Refrigerators are not suitable for storing foods that require a cool and dry environment.

While the temperature inside a fridge is below 40°F, cool actually refers to a range between 68°F and 77°F. Additionally, refrigerators are not a dry place since the humidity level inside the box rises every time the door is opened.

Opening the door of a fridge can cause moisture from the kitchen to condense on the items, shelves, and walls inside it. This can significantly raise the humidity level inside the fridge for several hours, potentially compromising the quality and shelf life of the foods stored in it.

The humidity level inside a fridge can also be affected by the food items being stored in it. For example, an open container of warm soup will release moisture in the form of vapor, potentially raising the humidity level inside the fridge.

Over time, moisture inside a fridge can accumulate and form frost on the evaporator coils. Most fridges will defrost these coils every 12 or 24 hours, depending on their brand and model. The resulting moisture drips down to a tray at the bottom of the fridge, where it evaporates back into the surrounding environment.

Why Humidity, And Not Just Temperature, Matters

Humidity is a measure of the amount of moisture in the atmosphere of a confined space compared to the amount of moisture that could be present at a given temperature. For instance, 50% humidity at 35°F contains less moisture than 50% humidity at 70°F because warmer air can hold more moisture.

Low humidity in a storage space can be beneficial for preserving the integrity of tin cans and glass jar lids. When moisture buildup is minimal, there is less risk of cans rusting and other forms of degradation that can compromise the quality of stored foods.

Bottom Line

To maximize the lifespan of your canned and packaged foods, store them in a cool, dry, and enclosed space such as a kitchen cabinet, cupboard, pantry, or cellar. Avoid using open shelves and counters for storing food items, as direct exposure to sunlight and higher levels of humidity can compromise their quality.

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.