Foods that are properly refrigerated last longer and remain fresher. Maintaining the correct refrigerator temperatures can also aid in your prevention of dangerous foodborne illnesses.
Modern food preservation is made possible by the refrigerator. The equipment can keep food cold and safe to consume for days or weeks at the proper refrigerator temperature by inhibiting the formation of bacteria. Instead, freezers can keep food fresh and prevent bacterial growth for weeks—or perhaps for as long as possible.
Bacteria begin to multiply exponentially when food temperatures start to rise above a particular point. While not all of those bacteria are harmful, not all germs are either. You’d be prudent to maintain your refrigerator at the proper temperature and adhere to good refrigerator maintenance recommendations to preserve the quality of your food and lower the danger of food poisoning.
What Should a Refrigerator’s Temperature Be?
Keep your freezer at or below 0°F and your refrigerator at or below 40°F, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The perfect refrigerator temperature is, however, lower. Keep your body temperature between 1.7 and 3.3°C, or 35 and 38°F. As near to freezing as you can get without making your food freeze is in this temperature range. Additionally, it’s as near to 40°F as the refrigerator should reach before germs start quickly proliferating.
Temperatures over the 35° to 38°F range may be too high, particularly if the temperature gauge integrated into your refrigerator is unreliable. You run the risk of your food going bad rapidly and becoming sick from microorganisms like Salmonella and E. coli.
What Temperature Should a Freezer Be?
A freezer should generally be kept as close to 0°F as you can, with the exception of when you’re adding a lot of fresh, warmer food. A flash freeze feature is available on some freezers, which lowers the freezer’s temperatures for 24 hours to prevent freezer burn from temperature changes. For a few hours, you can choose to manually lower the freezer’s temperature, but don’t forget to adjust it back. Maintaining your freezer at a temperature that is too low may increase your energy costs and will result in food losing moisture and flavor. A freezer with a lot of ice buildup is a solid sign that the temperature is too low.
For a printable reference that you can pin to your refrigerator, consult our temperature chart.
How to Take an Accurate Measure
Regrettably, not all refrigerator temperature gauges are precise. Although you may have set your refrigerator to 37°F, it actually maintains temperatures closer to 33°F or even 41°F. Refrigerators frequently deviate slightly from the temperature you select.
Additionally, some refrigerators don’t even show the temperature. You can change the refrigerator’s temperature on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the warmest setting. You cannot determine what those milestones correspond to in actual degrees without a thermometer.
An affordable freestanding appliance thermometer is available online or at any home improvement retailer. For 20 minutes, put the thermometer in the freezer or refrigerator. Next, examine the reading. Are you at the recommended temperature or even close to it?
If not, use the fridge’s temperature control panel to change the temperature so that it remains within the safe range of 35° and 38°F. Aim to bring the temperature as near to 0°F as you can by using the same procedure in your freezer.
How to Keep Your Fridge and Freezer Cool
You can take a few actions to help maintain an ideal temperature if you notice that your freezer is too warm or that your refrigerator temperature is hovering around the 40°F level despite your modified temperature settings.
Before storing food, allow it to cool.
Hot leftover soup bowls or roast chicken can quickly heat up the limited space in your refrigerator or freezer, placing the food at risk of bacterial growth. Before covering and storing meals, allow them to cool for a little while (but not until room temperature—that will take too long).
Examine the door seals.
A refrigerator door’s edge gaskets keep warm air outside and cold air inside. Your chilly air can be escaping if one of the gaskets has a leak. That can make it more challenging to effectively cool the device (and use up more electricity, boosting your monthly electric bill).
Don’t keep opening the door.
The warm air enters and the cold air exits the refrigerator every time the door is opened. When you’re hungry, resist the urge to paw through your refrigerator looking for something to satisfy your cravings. Instead, immediately close the door after getting what you came for.
Fridge and freezer should always be full.
A happy fridge is one that is full. Your freezer operates in a similar manner. If the shelves and drawers are mostly full, the refrigerator’s temperature can stay cooler for a longer period of time and keep food chilled the best. Just watch out for crowding the area and reducing airflow. This may make it challenging to move cooled air and raise the possibility of warm air pockets. Ideally, leave around 20% of the area unoccupied. (A little organizing in the refrigerator can also help with that.