What Temperature Should My Refrigerator Be?

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Understanding what refrigerator temperature you need to maintain in your fridge is really important. The refrigerator temperature determines:

  • How long your food and beverages will stay fresh and healthy to eat?
  • If you can keep certain perishable ingredients or food items in your fridge?
  • If you need to schedule a repair or replacement of a refrigerator component?

When it comes to the ideal refrigerator temperature, it isn’t just about setting your fridge at a particular temperature and forgetting about it. You’ll need to constantly monitor your refrigerator temperature to ensure it stays at the right level always.

So, what is the correct refrigerator temperature?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that refrigerator temperatures be kept below 40°F or 4°C. Your freezer should be maintained at a much colder temperature below 0°F or -18°C.

However, sometimes, this temperature isn’t ideal for all types of food to thrive in your fridge. Some ingredients require slightly different temperatures to stay fresh and edible.

This is why industry experts recommend the following:

  • If you have fresh produce and your refrigerator has a separate fresh produce division, keep the temperature between 32°F and 39°F or 0°C and 4°C.
  • Your dairy products should be stored at a temperature of 36° to 39°F or 2°C and 4°C.
  • Full-sized carcass meats should be hung in a large refrigerator space that allows air to circulate all around and over the carcass, at a temperature of 34°F to 37°F or 1°C to 3°C. Fresh cuts, ground meat, bones, poultry and other individual animal parts should be stored at 36°F to 39°F or 2°C to 4°C. Poultry, in particular, must be packed in ice and stored. Seafood should be stored at a lower temperature between 30°C and 34°F or −1°C and 2°C. Remember to finish consuming any meat in 2 days or it will spoil, irrespective of what refrigerator temperature you’ve set.
  • All frozen foods – fruits, vegetables, nuts, berries and frozen meat – must be kept below 0°F or (−18)°C. Remember to wrap your frozen foods in aluminum foil or freezer-safe plastic wrap or parchment to prevent the cold from causing “freezer burns”.
  • Beverages should be stored between 34°F and 38°F or 1°C and 3°C.

So, overall, it’s best to keep your refrigerator temperature between 35°F and 38°F or 1.7°C to 3.3°C. (most foods can stay fresh at this temperature and very rarely will you need to go up to 39°F/4°C). Your freezer should always be kept under 0°F/(−18)°C.

Keeping your fridge at these temperatures will prevent the growth of harmful bacteria from ruining your food and beverages. You can make your favorite eatables last longer and ensure you don’t waste hundreds of dollars throwing out food.

Additionally, you can prevent medical conditions like food poisoning. Although it is not a fatal condition in most cases, it can be very painful and uncomfortable to endure.

Top reasons why your refrigerator temperature fluctuates and what you can do about it

Have you found yourself thinking, “Why is my refrigerator temperature so cold?” or “Why does my fridge feel warm to touch?” If yes, you may be having some type of technical defect or failure, which causes your refrigerator temperature to fluctuate constantly.

Here we’ll explore why this happens.

  • You haven’t set the right temperature to begin with

Most newly-installed fridges aren’t set at the right refrigerator temperature. You’ll need to check the temperature mentioned on the display panel or peek inside the fridge to see the number on the temperature dial to know what the current refrigerator temperature actually is. If it isn’t according to the required temperature, you need to manually correct it.

  • Blocked air circulation vents

The air vents in your refrigerator help circulate air inside the fridge, ensuring your appliance isn’t too warm or too cold.

Sometimes, these vents can be blocked by packets of food or beverage cans. When this happens, the cold air keeps blowing inside the confined space and causes your freezer to completely freeze. The presence of the ice in the freezer doesn’t help either, since it can’t melt in this cold temperature, further blocking your vents.

You’ll need to clear the vents to ensure there is sufficient and uninterrupted airflow inside your refrigerator. Disconnect your fridge from power and clear out all your food stuffs. Keep the perishables in until the last minute. Then using a spatula, spoon or a cloth, clean out the vents so they are free. Place your items back in the fridge and switch the appliance back on.

  • Wrongly set thermostat

Apart from the vents, you’ll need to check the settings of your thermostat knobs as well.

These thermostat knobs control the cooling process in the refrigerator by controlling the compressor’s functionality (the compressor pumps the refrigerant i.e., the liquid that is evaporated and used by your fridge to keep the refrigerator temperature cool).

If the thermostat knobs have not been set at the right level, they can cause your fridge to heat up or freeze, ruining your food and beverages inside. So, make sure you check the knobs and re-set them as you need. You can actually check on your thermostats when you’re cleaning the vents.

  • The refrigerator door isn’t closed properly

Most modern refrigerators have a door open alarm that is activated when you accidentally leave the fridge door open. However, this alarm only works when the door is wide open. If you’ve shut the fridge door, but it’s not securely in place, the small space between the door and the fridge can allow the cooling to escape, causing your refrigerator temperature to change. Make sure you always hear the click or feel the vacuum seal of the door securely close when you shut the refrigerator door.

When it comes to the door, you should regularly check if the door seal is in good condition or not. Age can wear out your door gasket seal. Any tear in the seal can cause your fridge to warm up quickly. If you can’t replace the seal right away, apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly all along the gasket seal. This will close-up the open space that allows the air to escape your fridge.

  • The refrigerator coils are dirty

The refrigerator coils are located at the back of the fridge. They are responsible for cooling and condensing the refrigerant. But often, pollution, dust, dead insects, hairballs and other debris can get clogged up inside the coils (especially if your fridge has a grille-type gate and not a closed gate covering the coils). This debris can stop the refrigerant from evaporating and circulating inside the fridge.

To run smoothly, your fridge will use more electricity to power the cooling system. Uncleaned coils can increase your energy consumption up to 35% of your normal costs, if you’re not careful. Debris can also slow down the cooling process and mess with the refrigerator temperature, affecting the health and safety of your food.

  • There are too few items in your fridge

One of the most common (and most ignored) reasons why your refrigerator temperature fluctuates is the lack of sufficient food stored inside. Initially, we spoke about how your fridge vents can be blocked, causing your freezer to freeze-over. This happens when you have too much food in the refrigerator’s freezer.

But there’s a problem when you have too little food in the fridge too.

When there are sufficient items in your fridge, these products absorb the cold and stabilize the refrigerator temperature, ensuring it stays regulated. But, when you don’t have anything that can retain the cold, this cooling just evaporates away, making the inside of your fridge warm.

So, make sure you have at least a few plates of food or jugs of water/juice in the fridge at all times.

Sometimes, your refrigerator temperature may continue to fluctuate and your fridge malfunction, in spite of your efforts to fix the problem. In such a scenario, it is probable that your fridge has a serious component/technical issue that only an expert can fix.

So, if you’re unable to retain your refrigerator temperature as you should and you’ve tried all of our tips above, call in a specialist and get your fridge repaired.

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