We've all done this: come home from the farmer's market or a great sale at the supermarket with tons of fresh and delicious food, only to discover it's a major feat of engineering to fit it all into the fridge. You might start eyeing some of that stuff wondering how bad it might be if you left it on the counter....and as it turns out, some things you're putting in the fridge can probably stay out for a while. Here's a rundown:
Dairy and eggs: Milk should go on the top shelf of the fridge, which is the coldest spot; surprisingly, yogurt can be left out for a few hours. Supermarket eggs should go right into the fridge, in their cartons, not on the door. Farmers market eggs might be OK for a day or so left out; eggshells have natural preservatives in them that allow eggs to be safe at room temperature, but most eggs sold in America are washed before market to remove potential salmonella contamination on the shell. Ask the farmer, and refrigerate them when in doubt. Cheese should be refrigerated until serving time, when it's better to bring it to room temperature.
Meat and fish: Always refrigerate! Pathogens can grow on them at temperatures over 40 degrees and under 140.
Fruit and vegetables: If you'll eat fruit more often if you can see it, or if you don't like cold fruit, it's fine to put it in a pretty bowl on the counter. It won't last as long, but will be perfectly safe to eat. Peaches, plums and other fruits will ripen more if left out. Interestingly, lemons will last four times as long if refrigerated.
Veggies should go in the crisper drawer, because they'll stay fresh much longer that way. Tomatoes, potatoes, onions and garlic should all be stored out in the open, but not near each other (onions can cause potatoes to start sprouting). Being in the fridge won't harm onions and garlic, but the very aromas that make them delicious can spread to other foods that will not be enhanced by a little allium hit.
And here's a bonus tip: if you store fruits on the counter, fruit flies can become a problem. Here's how to fix it: put some vinegar in a glass with a squirt of dish soap. The vinegar attracts the flies, and the dish soap breaks the surface tension so when flies land on the vinegar's surface, they fall right in. I tried this the other day and it works like a charm!
How do you keep your food fresh longer?