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Marybeth from Alarm Clock Wars here again!

How cold is your refrigerator? How cold should it be? What about your freezer? How can you tell?

refrigerator temperature

Is your refrigerator cold enough?

Your refrigerator should be kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius), but above 32 degrees F (0 degrees C). A good range for your refrigerator is to keep it between 34-38 degrees F (1-3 degrees C). Your freezer should be kept at 0 degrees F (-18 degrees C).

Why does it matter?

For your refrigerator, it’s all about food safety. Your refrigerator needs to be cold enough to inhibit bacterial growth (below 40), but warm enough that food doesn’t freeze (above 0). Refrigerator temperatures don’t stop bacteria from growing, but temperatures below 40 degrees do greatly slow bacterial growth. This is very important for food safety.

In your freezer, it’s about food storage. The colder your freezer, the better. If your freezer will keep foods below 0 degrees, they may stay fresher longer.

How can I tell?

Newer refrigerators and freezers may have a digital display on the door that tells you at what temperature it is set. Older models, or ones with fewer “bells and whistles,” might just have a little dial in the back with some numbers on it, probably 1-5. The dial may say “colder” and “warmer”, but it doesn’t actually give you a temperature. In this case, you can sort of guess by adjusting the dial. If things in the back of your refrigerator start to freeze, you’ve probably got it set too cold. But there is a better way.

Invest in a refrigerator/freezer thermometer. These thermometers come in a variety of types and sizes. Some sit on a shelf in your refrigerator or hang from the edge of a shelf, some come with suction cups to stick to the inside of the refrigerator. They don’t cost much (you can get a basic thermometer for under $10). Pop one of these inside your refrigerator. Then adjust that little temperature dial to get the temperature below 40 degrees. You should also get a thermometer for your freezer. Remember, we are looking for 0 degrees F (or lower) in the freezer.

Refrigerator/freezer thermometers can also be handy in models with a digital temperature display. Many refrigerators will have “cold spots” or “warm spots”. As long as the overall temperature stays below 40 degrees F, your food is fine. But if the temperature is set to 35 degrees, and one area tends to stay around 38 while the rest of the refrigerator stays at 35, then you know where you shouldn’t keep your milk.

One big benefit of these refrigerator/freezer thermometers is in case of a power outage. We’ve all been there… the power goes off for a few hours… or a few days… and we are left wondering if that refrigerator full of food is still any good. With a thermometer in place, you can tell if the temperature in your refrigerator rose above 40 degrees F – which is the “magic” temperature for bacterial growth. If your refrigerator stayed below 40, you’re in good shape. If your freezer stayed below 40, you can simply refreeze what was stored in there. If the temperature crept up over 40, well, let’s just say that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

When in doubt, throw it out.

Keep it cold

Here are a few tricks to keep your refrigerator and freezer cold.

  1. Minimize the number of times you open the door. When you’re getting ready to make dinner, get everything you’ll need out of the refrigerator at one time. Opening and closing the door repeatedly lets out lots of cold air.
  2. Keep your refrigerator and freezer full. Full appliances don’t have as much “dead air” space that needs to be cooled down every time the door gets open. Cold and frozen items act as insulators to help keep everything cold. If your refrigerator or freezer isn’t very full, consider stashing bottles of water in the back to take up space and be insulators. (Just remember to leave some space in the water bottles before you put them in the freezer.)
  3. Don’t keep your refrigerator and freezer too full. Yes, I know that I just told you to keep them full. But here’s the trick… you don’t want them to be too full. If food is packed too tightly, air won’t be able to circulate. Then you’re left with pockets of warmer air, that could be above that 40 degree F magic temperature.
  4. Check the door seals. As the rubber seals around the refrigerator and freezer door get older, the rubber can get dry and not work as well. Replacing these seals can help stop cold air leaks, keep your food colder, and help your appliances run more efficiently.

What is your refrigerator’s temperature? Now is a great time to give your refrigerator a check up. After all, it’s going to be a very heavily used appliance as we get into the busy holiday season!

Marybeth from Alarm Clock Wars

I am a large animal veterinarian, cow farmer, pet owner, grocery buyer, social media consultant, so very much not-a-morning-person. Every morning, I fight the good fight to stay in a warm bed with a