In short, you like to think that you’re pretty savvy, food-wise. But despite your best intentions, you might still be making a few unexpected mistakes. Here are nine common kitchen blunders—and what you should be doing instead.
1. Throwing all fruits and vegetables in the crisper drawer.
You probably figure that popping your produce inside will help everything stay fresher longer. But most refrigerators have two crisper drawers—and it’s better to store fruit in one and veggies in the other.
“Some fruits [like apples and bananas] emit ethylene gas, which can cause surrounding vegetables to prematurely ripen and spoil,” says Kantha Shelke, Ph.D., founder of the food science and research firm Corvus Blue. While you’re separating everything, leave tomatoes and stone fruits, such as peaches, plums, and nectarines, out of the fridge entirely. The cold temps can turn their texture into mush.
Another tip: Try not to overfill the drawers. Packing softer items (like grapes or summer squash) too closely together can bruise or smash them. And without enough air circulation, most vegetables will rot faster, Shelke says.
2. Packing up hot food in plastic containers.
Sticking leftovers into the fridge sooner rather than later reduces the growth of harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning, say food safety experts. Plus, you’re less likely to sneak an extra bite or two if everything is already packed away.
But plastic food containers contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals like BPA and BPS, which have been linked to obesity, reproductive problems, and even certain cancers. And when you store your still-steaming stir-fry or spaghetti in plastic containers, the heat can actually cause those chemicals to leach in to your food. In fact, one study found that plastic containers leached BPA 55 times faster when the containers were exposed to hot water compared to when they were exposed to room temperature water.
The fix? Invest in a set of storage containers made from glass or ceramic, which are BPA- and BPS-free, recommends the National Toxicology Program. Or place hot food on a plate or in a bowl in the fridge until it cools, then transfer it to a plastic container.
3. Using every last bit of herbs or spices in the jar before buying new ones.
Herbs and spices can get expensive—and everyone agrees wasting food isn’t cool. But when herbs and spices sit around for more than a year or two, their flavor starts to disappear, says Rachel Begun, registered dietitian and certified natural chef . (They’re still safe to eat, though.) But spices sans flavor kind of defeats the purpose, right?
Still, unless you’re obsessed with curry powder or turmeric, it can be tough to use up an entire jar before it loses its punch. “To maximize flavor, it’s best to purchase them in smaller amounts,” Begun says. If you can, buy just a couple spoonfuls at a time from the bulk section. And if your market doesn’t offer bulk spices? Pick the smallest size jars you can, keep the jars tightly sealed, and store them away from heat or direct light, which can cause the flavor to fade faster, Begun says.
4. Opening up the oven to check on your food.
No one wants burnt lasagna or banana bread—but constant peeking is a bad idea. “Opening the oven door lets out a lot of the heat, which can drop the internal temperature pretty drastically,” says Nate Appel, chef at HelloFresh. That can cause your food to cook less evenly—and take longer to be done.
Instead, stick to just one check halfway through cooking. Since most ovens don’t heat evenly, it’s a good opportunity to rotate your pan or toss items on your baking sheet too, Appel says. Can’t resist the urge to look more than that? Turn on the oven light so you can see what’s going on without actually having to open the door.
5. Storing food on top of your refrigerator.
If you’re short on space, it might seem like a good home for items that don’t need to be kept cold. But your refrigerator releases heat, and heat rises. See where we're going here? The stuff sitting on top of your fridge is subject to warmer temps, so some of it could spoil faster.
Bread and baked goods are prime targets, since “mold growth is favored by heat, humidity, and light,” Shelke says. To keep your carbs fresher longer, store them in a cool, dark place (like the fridge or the bottom of your pantry) in a tightly sealed bag.
Wine might get ruined too. Vino does best when stored between 52 and 58 degrees, Shelke says. Any warmer, and it runs the risk of deteriorating faster, developing off flavors and eventually spoiling. Since different wines can deteriorate at different rates, there’s no magic cutoff date for how long yours might last on top of the fridge. But if the color turns brown or yellow, the cork is pushed out, or it has weird flavors like vinegar, cooked raisins, or wet newspaper, it’s probably spoiled, Shelke says.
6. Coating pans with nonstick spray.
It’s the fastest, simplest, least messy way to make sure muffins and quick breads don’t come out of the oven fused to the pan. But despite what you might think, most nonstick sprays aren’t just vegetable oil in an aerosol can. Many conventional sprays contain polydimeythlpolysiloxane, a foaming agent that’s also used in Silly Putty. (It doesn’t have any known health effects, but uh, gross.) And if your spray is butter flavored, it likely contains the flavoring chemical diacetyl, which has been linked to lung disease.
The solution? Skip the spray and coat your pans with a thin layer of unsalted butter, canola oil, or coconut oil. (Save olive oil for savory recipes, since the flavor can clash with baked goods.)
7. Roasting your vegetables at a super-high temperature.
You might think a crazy hot oven is key to getting a crisp texture and sweet, golden caramelization on your Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, or winter squash. But go too high, and you risk burning the outside of your veggies before the inside gets a chance to fully cook.
“There’s no perfect temperature at which to roast all vegetables, but most can be cooked at 400 degrees,” Appel says. (How long you roast depends on the size and thickness of your veggies. For instance, thick-cut oven fries will take longer than skinny green beans.) And remember to avoid overcrowding your pan. Giving each piece some space is another essential for achieving that dreamy caramelized crust.
8. Tossing knives in the dishwasher.
Wondering why your once razor-sharp blade can barely slice through an onion or carrot these days? The culprit could be your dishwasher. “Some dishwashers have extremely high water pressure, which can dull blades quickly. The small crystals in dishwasher detergent can also be abrasive,” Appel says.
Keep them sharper for longer by cleaning them in the sink. (Same goes for other cutting blades, like food processor blades or blenders.) Wash knives and blades in hot, soapy water with a soft sponge or dishcloth, dry them immediately, and put them away, Appel says. When you let knives and blades dry on a rack, they’re more likely to come in contact with other surfaces that could dull them faster.
9. Washing fruits or vegetables as soon as you get home.
Rinsing right away means your produce is ready for snacking or cooking at a moment’s notice. But it also means that your fruit or vegetables might have already turned bad when you go to reach for them. “Washing them and then having them sit in the refrigerator or on the counter can lead to mold or cause them to spoil too quickly,” Begun says.
The fix, of course, is pretty simple. Just hold off on washing your produce until right before you’re ready to use it, Begun says. (The one exception? Mushrooms. Since they’re porous, they can absorb water and end up soggy. “It’s best to take a damp cloth or paper towel and rub them gently to remove the dirt,” Begun says.)