Your refrigerator works hard day in and day out to keep your food cold and safe to eat. But sometimes it needs a little help with the internal temperature—that’s where your knowledge of ideal fridge temps comes in.
Storing food properly is important to keeping you and your family safe from bacteria and related foodborne illnesses. When it comes to your fridge, the best refrigerator temperature depends on what foods you’re storing in it and for how long.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at the ideal refrigerator temperature while considering the different types of foods and liquids that you should be storing. We also offer up some ideas for properly maintaining your fridge that can help save energy and prevent your fridge from unexpectedly going out when you need it most (i.e., every day!).
What Temperature Should a Refrigerator Be?
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a safe recommended refrigerator temperature is at or below 40° F (4° C) to prevent bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and C. botulinum from growing. That doesn’t mean that these microorganisms won’t grow at all—this refrigerator temperature just slows down the growth process and keeps your food safe to eat for a longer period than if it were left at a higher temperature.
The refrigerator freezer temperature should be 0° F (-18° C), again according to the FDA. Typically, this temp should prevent freezer burn and keep ice from developing on surfaces.
If you’re going by the book, there really is no average refrigerator temperature, but you may need to drop the temperature down to somewhere between 35° F to 37° F depending on where you live and any environmental or altitude factors. If you’re unsure of what your fridge temperature is and it doesn’t have a feature that tells you, appliance thermometers are a great, inexpensive way to check and maintain the proper temperatures in your fridge and freezer.
Should you need to adjust the temperature, most fridges have some sort of fridge temperature control feature, such as a knob or buttons, that will allow you make the necessary refrigerator temperature adjustments. Just like us, refrigerators need some time to adjust after a big change, so remember to give your fridge about 24 hours at a new temperature before changing it again.
What Foods Should be Stored in the Refrigerator?
Once you get home from shopping at the grocery store, any food that needs to be refrigerated needs to be put away immediately (meats and cheeses, we’re looking at you). The FDA warns that any items needing to be refrigerated that are left out for more than two hours run the greatest risk for contracting bacteria related to foodborne illnesses (one hour if the air temperature outside of the fridge is above 90° F).
Here is a list of just some of the products that should be put in the fridge as soon as possible:
- Dairy products
A good rule of thumb for knowing whether or not a food item belongs in the fridge is by paying attention to how it is stored in the grocery store. If the item is stored in a closed refrigerator or even an open bin spray cooler (such as fresh produce), it should definitely go into your fridge. Just remember that the ideal refrigerator temperature is at or below 40°. Grocery stores may operate with different storage temperatures given their turnover rates on refrigerated products.
Where Should Food Items Be Stored in a Refrigerator?
Maintaining a safe refrigerator temperature isn’t the only thing you need to consider when storing food. You also need to be thoughtful about where to store items. Doing so will help prevent cross-contamination that can occur when foodborne illness-causing bacteria is transferred from surfaces, such as countertops, or by handling raw foods without washing your hands afterwards.
Wherever possible, you should replace the container that your food comes in before putting it in the fridge. Your refrigerator temperature will do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to slowing down the growth of disease-causing microorganisms, but it won’t stop it outright. Switching out original food containers with clean new ones is a step that you should take before storing food in the fridge.
Raw and Ready-to-Eat Foods
Location plays almost as large of a role in food storage as having the ideal refrigerator temperature does. Prepared, ready-to-eat foods such as cakes and other baked goods, snacks (such as hummus or other dips), and leftovers should be stored on the upper levels of the fridge away from raw food such as meat, poultry, fish, and produce. Raw foods should be stored on the lower shelves of the fridge, with poultry going on the bottom shelf.
Produce, such as fruits and vegetables, should be stored in the crisper drawers. Although the fridge temperature maintains the climate of the refrigerator as a whole, the crispers provide a more humid climate for your fruits and vegetables to keep them fresh for longer than if they were left on the main shelves of the fridge.
If your fridge happens to have two drawers, one is generally used for produce that does better in higher humidity, while the other is for foods that need a climate that is lower in humidity. There is usually a slider that controls each drawer’s humidity level by either opening or closing a vent. If you don’t have a slider, you can likely consider both drawers to be high humidity.
High humidity foods include things like leafy greens, celery, and cilantro, but most vegetables do just fine in the high humidity drawer. Lower humidity foods include items from the fruit food group, such as apples, pears, melons, and oranges. These types of fruits slowly emit a gas called ethylene, which speeds up the rotting process. Let these foods get cozy together in the lower humidity fruit drawer.
Regardless of where your produce goes, you should consider washing it thoroughly and drying it off before storing it in the fridge. Washing your produce before storing it in an ideal refrigerator temperature will combat foodborne illnesses while keeping it fresher for longer.
What Not to Put in the Fridge
Other produce items such as onions and potatoes also release gas. While they tend to do better in cooler temperatures, they should never be stored in the refrigerator—they might actually spoil faster. Onions and potatoes should be stored separately, where there is plenty of air circulation. Wire or mesh baskets are a good storage solution.
Maintaining a Healthy Refrigerator
Maintaining a safe refrigerator temperature is just one of the things to help keep you and your family safe from foodborne illnesses. Keeping the refrigerator clean and properly maintained can also prevent yourself from having to repair your refrigerator.
Don’t set it and forget it. Keep your fridge working properly by keeping an eye on the temperature and setting it accordingly.