The Right Refrigerator Temperature is the Difference Between Safe Food and Spoilage

Our new refrigerator has an electronic temperature gauge in the door. When the refrigerator was first plugged in the temperature was high. Within two hours, however, the freezer temperature was two degrees below zero and the interior temperature was 38 above. These are safe readings.

Your refrigerator temperature is important because it prevents or slows the growth of bacteria. According to “Refrigeration and Food Safety,” an article posted on the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service website, when bacteria have nutrients — the food in your fridge — “they grow rapidly, increasing in numbers to the point where some types of bacteria can cause illness.”

The so-called Danger Zone for the growth of bacteria is 40-140 degrees. In fact, if your fridge temperature reaches 40 degrees or above, bacteria can start to grow in only 20 minutes. Bacteria are divided into two groups, pathogenic (food-bourne illness) and spoilage. Therefore, the interior temperature of your fridge should be 40 degrees or less.

If your fridge has a built-in thermometer you can tell the temperature instantly. Keep in mind that hot food raises the interior temperature. That’s why the Food Safety Inspection Service recommends chilling hot food in an ice bath before you put it away.

If your fridge does not have a built-in thermometer, the University of Nebraska Extension Service says you should buy a liquid-filled thermometer or a bimetallic coil thermometer. Two thermometers, one for the fridge shelves and one for the freezer, are recommended. “Place the thermometer in the 雪櫃推介 front door of the refrigerator or freezer in an easy-to read location,” the article advises.

A How Stuff Works website article, “What is the Ideal Temperature for a Refrigerator,” recommends a setting of 35-38 degrees. The temperature should not be lower or your food will freeze.

Placement and storage also affect food safety. Raw meat, poultry and fish should be stored in a sealed container, according to the Food Safety Inspection Service. Though my new fridge has a butter and cheese drawer, it does not have a meat drawer, so I bought a snap-seal container for these items. Produce should be stored in bins I have separate ones for fruits and vegetables.

Milk and eggs should not be stored in the door because frequent opening will warm these perishable foods. Do not let your kids open the door and stand there for minutes, looking for just the right snack, or enjoying the blast of cold air on a hot summer day.

Keeping your fridge clean also affect food safety. Wipe up any spills immediately. Check the fridge weekly for spoiling food and discard it. I also look for jars and storage containers that are not completely sealed. You should vacuum the condenser coil at least once a year to remove dust and dirt. However, if you have been doing renovation or construction work, you may have to vacuum the condenser more often.

These factors — a clean refrigerator, proper placement/storage, and a safe temperature — will keep your food fresh-tasting and safe.

Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for decades. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of Health Care Journalists, and Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief,” written with Lois Krahn, MD is available from Amazon.

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