The beloved refrigerator, if it’s running, keeps the family running too! Cool temperatures help ensure everyday food items like milk and meat maintain their shelf life and stay safe for you to eat. However, if your fridge is set close to freezing, then some items may start showing frost on them. Correct fridge and freezer temperatures not only maintain the longevity of your foods, but also keep them safe from harmful bacteria. Read on as we bring you a guide on what you need to know about optimum fridge and freezer temperatures.
Fridge Temperature Chart
The following chart is a general guide to the ideal temperature for the fridge and freezer:
Fridge Temperature Range
To maintain food safety standards, it’s recommended that you always keep the fridge below 5°C and the freezer below -18°C. According to CSIRO:
- The best setting for the fridge is 3°C
- The best setting for freezers is -18°C to -20°C
However, this might vary depending on types of food and produce stored in the fridge. It would be wise to check storage directions on product labels. Each section of the fridge can differ in temperature and we detail below where specific items should be stored.
Where to store food in the fridge
Certain areas of the fridge are colder than others, so think about which food products you want to put where:
- Fridge door: warmest section
- Top shelf: slightly warmer section
- Middle shelf: colder section
- Bottom shelf: coldest section
- Crisper: maintains humidity
The fridge door is typically the warmest part of the fridge – largely because it’s the area exposed to the outside world when you open the door – and in particular the top shelf of the door will be warmest. The products you store in the door can easily get up to as high as 15°C, so it’s recommended to avoid putting food items that are particularly sensitive to spoilage in the door. Instead use the door for condiments such as mayonnaise, BBQ and tomato sauces. In addition, keep butters and soft cheeses on the top shelf of the door so they’re at a ready-to-serve temperature – no one enjoys waiting for rock hard butter to soften.
Door fridge aside, the top shelf of the fridge itself is slightly warmer compared to the sections below. This area is suggested to be used for ready to eat foods. This may include dairy products, yoghurt and cream, as well as ready meals and packed foods. Keeping these foods at the top also helps to minimise the transfer of any bacteria from raw foods.
The middle shelf is a colder section compared to the top. There is less temperature fluctuation in this area and it provides well circulated air. It can be used for leftovers, cooked meats and salads.
This is the coldest section of the fridge. Store raw meats, seafood and poultry on the bottom shelf, and at the back where it’s coldest. Make sure that these items are sealed securely, so that juices and liquids can’t drip onto other foods.
The crispers, or humidity drawers, will usually be slightly warmer so that the fruits and vegetables don’t freeze. Typically, this section can be adjusted – high to low – which simply opens or closes a window in the drawers. Greens including spinach, broccoli and herbs require high humidity levels as these products are sensitive to moisture loss. Fruits including apples, mangoes, pears and avocados are not sensitive to moisture, thus require a lower humidity level.
High risk foods
When placing produce in your fridge, keep in mind the following items that are often classified as ‘high-risk foods’:
- cooked rice
- cooked pasta
This also includes ready-made meals that have ‘high-risk foods’ as ingredients, such as pizza, pasta salad, casseroles, quiche, sandwiches and many cakes. By keeping these ‘high-risk foods’ under 4°C it stops them from entering the ‘danger-zone’ – temperatures between 5°C and 60°C. This particular temperature range gives bacteria an ideal environment to grow and multiply to numbers that cause food poisoning.
Many items other than meats, vegetables and dairy products also need to be kept cold. All perishables should be placed in the fridge or freezer right away. It’s recommended to stick to the two-hour rule for leaving fresh produce and leftovers out at room temperature. If you’ve neglected to properly refrigerate something, it’s usually best to throw it out.
Fridge temperature for energy efficiency
Energy star ratings on fridges are a helpful indicator of how much the appliance is expected to add to your energy bills. However, to maximise energy efficiency, don’t keep your fridge or freezer below the recommended temperature as it will make the fridge work harder and in turn add to your electricity bill. Other tips include:
- avoid keeping the fridge door open for prolong periods
- cover liquids stored in the fridge as these items release moisture, which makes the compressor work more
- keep an eye on temperatures using a thermometer – if your fridge doesn’t come with an in-built thermometer, you can purchase one and place it below the top shelf, towards the door to give a general indication of the fridge temperature
- defrost your fridge and freezer regularly to avoid frost build-up, which decreases the energy efficiency of the appliance
According to Australian Institute of Food Safety, food that is properly handled and stored in the freezer at -18°C will remain safe. While freezing does not kill most bacteria, it does stop bacteria from growing. While freezing is claimed to not reduce nutrients, the quality may decrease the longer the food is stored there.
By freezing food, its longevity is increased because the water content of the food freezes, preventing any bacteria growth and food spoiling. When thawing frozen food, the item should be stored in the fridge until it’s ready to be prepared.
Keep in mind that freezing food doesn’t eliminate bacteria and when food thaws, bacteria begin growing again. It is also important to avoid refreezing foods which have already been frozen and thawed, because when food is frozen for a second time, it’s more likely to have a higher bacteria count.
Grey or brown leathery spots sometimes found on frozen food are freezer burns. These occur when the food is not sealed properly, causing dry spots on food. It can also be caused from too cold temperature settings in the freezer.
The bottom line on fridge & freezer temperatures
Maintaining the ideal fridge and freezer temperature is important. The ‘temperature danger zone’ between 5°C and 60°C can potentially give rise to harmful bacteria. Storing perishable foods at, or below, 5°C and at or above 60°C helps prevent bacteria from multiplying, so don’t forget to check your thermometer regularly.
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