Ideas & Inspiration
Refrigerator Temperature Guide
Holding food within a safe refrigerator temperature range prevents the growth of bacteria that might cause illness. This guide will help you understand how cold a refrigerator should be and learn to adjust your refrigerator temperature to the optimal levels in all sections to keep your food safe.
- The safe refrigerator temperature range in the main compartment is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, with 37 degrees Fahrenheit being considered the optimal for holding foods cold.
- Place a refrigerator thermometer inside the main compartment to track the temperature. While a digital thermometer comes standard in many newer fridge models, it may help to have a freestanding thermometer to ensure accuracy.
- If your refrigerator is older, different parts of the refrigerator likely will not stay at the same temperature. You may want to place two thermometers, one on the top shelf closer to the back and one on the bottom shelf closer to the front. Check both regularly to ensure that all areas remain under 40 degrees.
- Do not leave perishable foods out of refrigeration for more than two hours. If the ambient temperature is over 90 degrees, the limit is one hour.
- Cooked or takeout food must be refrigerated within two hours. Divide large batches of food into multiple shallow containers to help them cool more rapidly.
- Marinating and thawing frozen food must only take place in the refrigerator, never at room temperature. Be sure to enclose thawing or marinating food in a container with a lid to prevent cross-contamination.
- If you are anticipating bad weather, prepare ahead of time for a possible power outage by freezing water in quart-size plastic bags. You can place them in your refrigerator or freezer to help preserve the cold if the power fails.
- If you lose power at home, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
- Freezer temperatures should be calibrated at zero degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place an appliance thermometer in the freezer and check it regularly to ensure that the temperature is holding correctly.
- Do not overload the freezer. As in the refrigerator, chilled air has to be able to circulate evenly around the food in the compartment to work efficiently and keep food frozen.
- In the event of power loss, keep the freezer door closed as much as possible. With a closed door, a freezer can keep food at an adequate temperature for approximately 48 hours.
- If food in the freezer has not dropped below 40 degrees or it still has ice crystals visible on the surface, the food can be refrozen or cooked and eaten safely.
- Discard any food that has been held more than two hours above 40 degrees.
Most refrigerators come with two produce storage drawers to store fresh food in low- or high-humidity conditions. Depending on the refrigerator model, each drawer may be adjustable to the desired condition or each drawer might be fixed to the required humidity level. Newer refrigerators often have a compartment-wide pantry drawer with adjustable temperature.
A low-humidity setting or drawer is designed for fruits and vegetables that expel a lot of ethylene gas and are not prone to losing moisture. The drawer ventilates the gasses that are released to keep the produce from rotting so quickly. The optimal fill level is two-thirds of capacity.
Low-humidity produce includes:
- Stone fruits
- Mangoes, papayas
- Cantaloupe, honeydew
- Be sure that avocados and bananas are ripe before putting them in the refrigerator
A high-humidity setting or drawer is designed for fruits and vegetables that are sensitive to ethylene gas exposure and require higher moisture levels to maintain freshness. The drawer is sealed to prevent moisture from evaporating out of the compartment and also to prevent exposure to the ethylene escaping from the other drawer. As a result, leafy greens and other high-moisture content produce doesn’t dry out or wilt as quickly. The optimal fill level is about three-fourths of capacity.
High-humidity produce includes:
- Leafy greens
- Summer squash
- Brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, etc.)
- Green beans
The pantry drawer in a refrigerator is a full-width section that operates on a separate temperature control from the rest of the unit. It allows you to store larger items like party trays or wine or smaller items that you need to keep within easy reach like soft drinks or snacks. There are usually several pre-programmed temperature settings for wine, deli items, soft drinks and fish, but if the thermostat allows direct programming of optimal temperatures, you may have to set it yourself. Wines are usually held at around 42 degrees Fahrenheit, deli meat at 37 degrees Fahrenheit and soft drinks at 33 degrees Fahrenheit.
Protect your health and your wallet from spoiled food by setting your refrigerator to the recommended temperatures and following safe food-handling procedures.
Thinking about a new refrigerator? Read our other guides on how to select the best refrigerator, organizing a refrigerator for optimal efficiency and how to defrost a freezer.