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Keep your refrigerator at the right temperature for food safety

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Barton County, University of Missouri Extension


During the summer months, food safety experts spend a significant amount of time warning people about the dangers of leaving food at room temperature and the importance of keeping food cold at outdoor picnics. Another important aspect of food safety is keeping the refrigerator at the proper temperature.


A refrigerator should maintain temperatures at or below 40 degrees F. The danger zone in which illness-causing bacteria can grow and multiply is 40 degrees to 140 degrees. The closer temperatures are to the middle of that range, the faster bacteria grow and multiply. Keep in mind that bacteria can still multiply at 40 degrees, but it is at a very slow rate. That is one reason why you should use or throw out leftover food within four days of preparation. Raw poultry and ground meat should be used within one or two days.


The best way to assure your refrigerator is at or below 40 degrees is by using a refrigerator or appliance thermometer. Colorado State Cooperative Extension describes this method for initially checking the temperature in your refrigerator:

  • Place your appliance thermometer (which can be purchased at hardware and some grocery stores) in a glass of water in the middle of the refrigerator and wait five to eight hours.
  • If the temperature is not 38 to 40 degrees after five to eight hours, adjust the temperature control and check again.


After the refrigerator temperature has been adjusted, the thermometer can be removed from the water and stored on the rack in the middle of the refrigerator.


A clean refrigerator works more efficiently than a dirty one. Drips and spills should be cleaned immediately. Surfaces should be cleaned with hot, soapy water and then rinsed. Abrasive cleansers are not recommended for refrigerators as they can harm the finish. The front grill of the refrigerator should be kept free from dust. This allows air to flow freely to the condenser. The condenser should be cleaned with a brush or vacuum cleaner several times a year.


With your clean refrigerator promptly set at 40 degrees or below, you are assuring the safety of food for your family.



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Last update: Friday, January 08, 2010