One of the skills you kids need to survive on your own is basic food safety. I am referring to very basic food safety, not how to keep food away from bears.
First, when considering what to refrigerate, look about my kitchen. Do you see apples in a bowl? You do? That is because they do not require refrigeration.
Apples will last weeks and weeks in the fridge, but by the time they have knocked around in there for about ten days, they also have gained some sort of guarantee of not being eaten by you guys, so just leave them out for a reminder of what real snack food looks like.
How about chicken parts? Do you see chicken parts decorating the table? No? That is because they need to be in the fridge (or freezer) for essentially every second they are not on their way to being cooked.
You know dead chickens want to kill you. I think if you have learned one food safety lesson from me, it would be that one. Do not play with the dead chickens.
If you give it a little thought, and if you apply some understanding of how food spoils, you will know what to put in the fridge. Aside from that, most packages have instructions that clearly say things like, “Refrigerate after opening” or “Keep frozen until Hell gets here.”
Food spoils when tiny little colonies of bacteria or spores of mold set up camp. Most plant-type foods have skin that seals their vulnerable bits, and they are very good at protecting their meaty interiors from bugs of all sorts–as long as the skin is not broken or very soft and wimpy. (I’m looking at you, strawberries).
Over time, any type of skin will break down, because that’s the other job of plant-type food. Aside from feeding us, they want to distribute seeds and make more plants for feeding us, apparently. Of course, the parts we eat don’t always have seeds or sprouts, and they just break down because they are jerks.
There are very few fruits that suffer for refrigeration like bananas. (Bananas will keep in the fridge, but they will turn black because the freckles just take over and overact to the cold and are trying to impress the lettuces and such).
You could simply keep all your plant-type foods in the fridge and move on to the next food group.
Keep your animal-type food in the refrigerator or freezer. If you have some type of cured meat that doesn’t require refrigeration, congratulations–go camping or throw it out right now!!
Meat is supposed to go bad in order to attract scavengers because nature is hilarious like that.
Anything that has been cooked has had a chance to get a little microbe action underway. If it’s been handled or processed or massaged by humans in any way, it may need to go in the ice box, also known as the refrigerator.
If the prepared food has had contact with a human mouth, such as when your brother guzzles orange juice directly from the container (ew!!) it not only needs to be kept cold, it may need to be nuked from orbit within a day or two. Saliva is the destroyer of teeth, so what do you suppose it does to a sugary drink?
Sealed cans and jars and vacuum bags that do not say, “Keep refrigerated,” should be fine outside of the refrigerator for a very long time.
A few other foods don’t respond well to cold, such as honey and under-ripe plant-type foods. We are considering safety here, so if you don’t know how ripe your melon is just go ahead and try to eat it, or put it in the fridge for later disappointment.
Last of all, always remember that no matter how excellent the refrigerator is, it is not a magic time-travelling tool. Eventually, even the hot sauce will go bad, so look at the dates before you pour from even the most immortal container in there.
Yes, I have a jar of pickles that I have had longer than you and it could go at any moment.
First-world guilt trip: you are very lucky that refrigeration is even an option, ya know.