Food Storage: Ideal Refrigerator And Freezer Temperature

The temperature at which foods are stored affects taste, appearance, nutrient content, and safety. Check your home refrigerator and freezer.

The temperature at which foods are stored influences almost every quality that food has from then on. Incorrect or inconsistent storage temperature can cause changes in taste, texture, appearance, nutrient content, and safety of the foods consumed. All food has bacteria. Refrigerators slow down bacterial growth. Freezers stop growth. It is important to note that freezers do not kill bacteria. When the food is thawed, the bacteria will resume growth.

The temperature of a freezer affects more than whether it can produce ice. For each five degrees above the desired freezer temperature, the length of time the food may be stored is cut in half. The higher the temperature, the faster nutrient levels drop. Even if the food is not spoiled, it will not taste as good. Changes in food color may also be noted. If food is thawed for any reason, it should not be refrozen unless it has been kept at proper refrigerated temperatures. Again, changes in quality are to be expected. Freezer burn is not a result of improper freezer temperatures, but of dehydration of the food by improper wrapping, that allows exposure to air.

Refrigerator temperature is just as important as freezer temperature. Expiration dates on refrigerated foods such as milk are based on the supposition that the food is kept at the proper temperature. Produce is immediately affected by too cold or too warm temperatures. Lettuce gets moldy. Strawberries turn to slime. Sometimes produce freezes ruining the product.



Refrigerators and freezers used commercially for restaurant food storage or medical vaccine storage are monitored closely. Temperatures are checked daily and logged. Though you need not be that diligent, it is important to check the temperature inside your home appliances. Freezers should be kept at 0F (minus 18C) or lower and refrigerators should be at 40F (5C) or lower, but not so cold as to freeze. Check the temperatures with a refrigerator/freezer thermometer that can be purchased at most grocery stores or kitchen outlets. A basic thermometer is around $5.00. A battery-operated digital thermometer that gives instant readings for refrigerator and freezer as well as weekly average temperatures for both is around $25. Place the freezer thermometer between two frozen objects such as two packages of vegetables and leave it for at least 24 hours before checking. Place the refrigerator thermometer between objects too, such as between two cartons of milk. This is so that the thermometer gives you a better picture of the consistent temperature rather than quick fluctuations as when the door is opened. Read the thermometers after a quiet period when the door has not been opened for a while such as first thing in the morning. It is a good idea to leave the thermometers in the appliances all the time. You might want make a note to yourself to check them once a month and whenever you have problems with the appliance. For large freezers where a lot of food is at stake, you can purchase a freezer alarm that lets you know when your food is in danger.

If, after checking the temperature, you find that it needs adjustment, do not panic. Both the refrigerator and freezer will have a temperature control dial of their own. The dial will have arbitrary numbers on it like "1, 2, 3, etc." but will give no indication of actual appliance temperature. One end of the number scale will be labeled "colder" while the other end will be labeled "warmer." Just set the dial one number closer to the warmer or colder end of the scale. Give the appliance 24 hours to reach and maintain the new temperature and check it again with the thermometer. If you are unable to get the appliance into the proper temperature, it is important to continue troubleshooting by checking the need for defrosting. Also, check whether the door seal is intact. Beyond that, most people call a repair service or get a new appliance. With the safety of our family and the enjoyment of our food at stake, it is obvious how important it is to keep the refrigerator at or below 40 degrees and the freezer at or below 0 degrees.

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