A refrigerator is your kitchen’s hub and the ultimate hunger-satisfier, but you need to run it at the right temperature to keep your food fresh.
Keeping your foods chilled at the right temperature keeps them fresh and makes them last longer. It also helps you avoid foodborne illnesses. So, using your refrigerator at the optimum settings is very important.
Many homeowners complain about food going bad in their refrigerators and not chilling properly while their refrigerator works all right. The problem, your refrigerator is not set at the right temperature.
In this article, we will discuss
- What temperature should a Refrigerator Be? (Refrigerator and Freezer)
- How to check the temperature in your refrigerator
- Food storage basics
- What to do when the power goes out
Let’s make refrigeration easy!
What Temperature Should a Refrigerator Be?
The basic goal behind putting food in your refrigerator is to keep you and your family safe from getting sick by microorganisms such as Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, C. botulinum that causes botulism, and many other diseases. Microorganisms are present all the time on our food and especially fresh food. This is why a cut apple left in the open starts to turn brown quickly compared to one kept in the refrigerator or a closed container. They start to multiply and excrete on the food. This is why the food turns green and smells awful.
The right temperature, recommended by FDA, for refrigerator is 40°F (4° C) or below and that for freezer section is 0° F (-18° C).
Any temperature above 40°F (4° C) in the refrigerator may allow bacteria to multiply quickly on the food, resulting in rapid rotting.
The ideal temperature for a refrigerator is between 36°F (2.2°C) and 38°F (3.3°C). It is below the recommended temperature by FDA but keeps your food fresh. This temperature limit also covers a wide variety of food. Your machine may have to put in slightly more effort, but it will give better results and keep your food fresh for a longer time by inhibiting the growth of bacteria on food.
The refrigerator section of your machine must not be run at or below 32°F (0°C). It is the point where food starts to freeze in the refrigerator, and it is not the right way to freeze your food. All items meant to be frozen must be kept in the freezer compartment below 32°F (0°C).
How to check the Temperature in your Refrigerator?
You must check the temperature periodically to ensure that your appliance is running at the right temperature. A built-in thermometer is the best way to check your machine’s temperature.
While all the newer models have a built-in thermometer, some old models and budget-friendly refrigerators have a mechanical thermostat without a digital display. You will need to use thermometers to check the temperature as well. Similarly, the thermometers on the latest models may not be very reliable, and the temperature in one section of your machine may be different from another section. Hence, using an additional thermometer is a great way to be certain of the temperature inside your appliance.
You can find a standalone appliance thermometer online or at any home store. Make sure that you get a good one that is specifically built for refrigerators. Place the thermometer in your refrigerator and, more specifically, on the rack for which you want to measure the temperature. You may notice that the reading on your refrigerator’s display is different than the one on your standalone thermometer.
There is a huge chance that the thermometer in your appliance is showing a wrong reading. Manufacturers install cheap parts (that go bad after some time) in their machines to make them affordable for budget buyers. It causes more loss than benefit in the long run.
A standalone thermometer is a must-have for machines without a built-in thermometer. Machines without an LED allow the users to adjust the temperature with buttons or a mechanical thermostat from 1-5 or 1-7. Without a digital thermometer, you won’t know how to adjust and maintain a safe temperature in those machines.
Food Storage Basics
The “Two-Hour Rule”: Stick to the two-hour rule when dealing with perishable items. Food items like meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or produce, or other foods that you buy from refrigerators/freezers in grocery shops must be put in the refrigerator as soon as you get home. Foods that require refrigeration must not be put outside for more than two hours or one hour if the temperature is hot and humid outside.
Keep it Easy in your Refrigerator: Make sure that you don’t overcrowd your machine with storage boxes. There must be ample space for the cold air to circulate in between the boxes. It will also stop items in the freezer from sticking to each other and freezing.
Independent Compartments: Latest machines come with independent compartments for different foods that can operate at different temperatures than the rest of the machine. Make sure you adjust the temperature according to the nature of the food stored in such compartments.
Read Storage Directions before Freezing: Packed foods come with storage directions to be put in the refrigerator or freezer. Items like milk, eggs, bakery items, pizzas, and other ready-to-out items always go in the refrigerator section of your machine.
Consume Ready-to-Eat Items as soon as Possible: Refrigerated ready-to-eat items must be consumed as soon as possible. If you want to keep them in the refrigerator, make sure that the refrigerator’s temperature is below 40 °F (4°C). Temperatures above this limit allow Listeria, a bacterium that causes foodborne illness, to multiply quickly.
See and Smell before Eating: If you suspect that food in your refrigerator has gone bad or the lights were out for some time, make sure you smell the food before heating it or eating it. Look for any color changes, mold growth, and odors. Food that doesn’t pass your sensory test must be thrown away immediately and must not be given to pets as well.
Regular Cleaning: Cleaning your refrigerator regularly ensures its long life, hygiene, and better temperature maintenance. It also helps reduce the growth of bacteria inside your refrigerator and prevents dips from one food to another, thus reducing the chances of contamination.
Avoid Hot Containers: Make sure you don’t place hot foods or boiled water/milk in your fridge and freezer. Placing too hot containers in your machine will result in steam and condensation, which will cause the temperature inside the machine to drop rapidly. It may take quite a few hours for your machine to get back to its normal temperature, and this period can help bacteria grow rapidly.
Check Door Gaskets: Rubber seals around the doors keep the cool air inside and the warm air outside. Make sure you inspect the gasket and look for any leaks or tears. A damaged gasket is one of the most common reasons behind refrigerate dropping temperature quickly.
Keep the Fridge Full: Don’t overload or overcrowd your machine but don’t keep it half empty all the time. A fridge loaded up to 8-% of its capacity performs well.
What to do when the power goes out?
Power outages are getting frequent day by day. Weather-related outages have increased in the last two decades, and such outages last for at least a couple of days. If you have a generator at your home and run your refrigerator on it, you don’t need to worry.
However, if you don’t have a generator, follow the steps below to ensure that food hasn’t gone bad after the lights went out.
- Check the temperature on the standalone thermometer in your refrigerator. If the thermometer shows a reading below 40°F or below, the food is safe and fit for consumption.
- If you don’t have a thermometer, check your food for any smells and odors in the fridge section. For frozen foods, look for ice crystals; frozen items usually last longer than the items stored in the refrigerator.
- Refrigerated food is usually safe if the power is not out for more than 4 hours. Make sure you don’t open the refrigerator door as frequently as you do when the lights are on.
We have discussed the factors that you need to consider while setting the temperature in your refrigerator and at what temperature it must operate. It is best to go through the user manual to get more knowledge about your appliance.