why the refrigerator temperature matters

Not having the proper refrigerator temperature could make you sick.

Used correctly, your refrigerator will keep food safe from spoilage and bacteria. Used incorrectly, it could cause big trouble of the tummy kind. Essentially, no food benefits from storage. You want to eat everything as fresh as you can.

But since we can't all tromp out to the garden to harvest for each meal, here are some refrigerator temperature and freezer storage guidelines.

Cold and Colder

The door is the warmest part of the refrigerator; keep nonperishables there, not eggs.

Some parts of your refrigerator are colder than others.

The meat compartment at the bottom is designed to store meat - so keep it there.

Not only is this the coldest area, but if the package leaks, it won't contaminate other foods. The door is the warmest part of the refrigerator.

This is the best place for nonperishables (sodas), not perishables (eggs).

Regularly Check the Interior Refrigerator Temperature

You need to have a refrigerator thermometer. Ditto for the freezer temperature, which should be kept at 0 to 5 degrees F. To keep food from spoiling, the refrigerator temperature needs to be between 34 and 40 degrees F. You can't depend on the little gauge (1-5) in the refrigerator.

Safe Food Handling Tips

  • Don't put hot food in the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature before refrigerating it. Hot food can cause the refrigerator temperature to drop.
  • On the other hand, don't leave food out too long either. Refrigerate prepared food within two hours of cooking (one hour in summer).
  • Don't overload the refrigerator. Parties are a dangerous time because you cram a lot of stuff into the refrigerator and then you're continually opening the door. Turn the temperature down during these occasions.
  • Cover foods tightly.
  • Leave meats in their original packaging to prevent spreading bacteria.
  • Don't store breads, cookies, or most cakes in the refrigerator. They will become stale.
  • Tell your family not to stand gazing slack-jawed into the open refrigerator while they decide what they want to eat.
  • If you lose power, do not open your refrigerator or freezer. If the door is not opened, food should keep eight hours in the refrigerator and 48 hours in the freezer.

Freezer Food Safety Tips

Freezing food will keep it from spoiling, but quality will still deteriorate over time. Use frozen foods as soon as possible, and follow these guidelines:

  • Don't refreeze foods.
  • Mark the date on foods when you put them in the freezer.
  • Only freeze fresh foods.
  • Wrap foods tightly.

How Long Food Keeps in the Refrigerator

Refrigerating foods helps keep them fresh, but they still won't last forever. Here are a few examples of how long it's safe to keep some foods.


  • Cooked vegetables
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Poultry, fish, ground meats
  • Other meats
  • Deli meats
  • Hot dogs
  • Milk
  • Sour cream
  • Fresh eggs

How Long It's Safe

  • 3-4 days
  • 2 to 14 days 
  • 1 to 2 days

  • 3 to 5 day 
  • 5 days
  • 1 week opened; 2 weeks unopened
  • 5 to 7 days
  • 4 weeks
  • 3 weeks

Best advice when it comes to your refrigerator and food safety: When in doubt, throw it away. A little thriftiness is not worth a tummy ache.

› Prevent Refrigerator Problems