What Temperature Should a Refrigerator Be? 11 Freshness Tips

August 24, 2022

What Temperature Should a Refrigerator Be? 11 Freshness Tips

For maximum freshness and efficiency, set your fridge to 38 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and follow some important food storage rules.

The fridge is the unsung hero of the kitchen, keeping our food fresh so we don’t have to go to the grocery store multiple times a week (even though we usually do anyway 👀) and ensuring that harmful bacteria doesn’t take up residence in the deli drawer. 

As much as we take it for granted, the fridge needs a little bit of TLC just like we do. If it’s not at the right temperature, it’ll quickly become inefficient, overworked and a hot hangout for bacteria.

Keeping your fridge at the right temperature is one of the best things you can do for your food supply and energy bill. 

In this guide, we’ll go over all the details, including the ideal fridge temp as well as some freshness tips that will help your food stay tasty and healthy for longer — from picking the best food storage containers to properly restocking so your food has room to breathe.

Pick Your Perfect Food Storage Containers

ideal refrigerator temperatures

The Ideal Fridge Temperature

What temperature should you set your fridge to? The USDA recommends keeping your fridge at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius), but you should aim for between 37 and 40 degrees. 

This is because, at this temp, it’s much harder for bacteria — the pesky microorganisms that are to blame for rotting fruit and food poisoning — to multiply. Side note: The ideal temperature for your freezer is 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-17 degrees Celsius).

What if your fridge doesn’t have a temperature gauge? Some fridges measure cooling power in single-digit numbers, which can make getting an exact temp difficult. For example, your fridge might offer cooling options from one to seven or one to five.

Typically, the higher the setting, the colder the fridge, but you should always consult your owner’s manual to be sure. To ensure that your fridge is set at the proper temp, invest in a refrigerator thermometer so you can monitor the exact temperature.

Why Proper Temperature Matters

Why Proper Temperature Matters

Does temperature matter all that much, anyway? Yes, and here’s why.

Bacteria Party

The most important reason to make sure your fridge is set to the optimum temp is to prevent it from becoming the hippest new vacation spot for spoilage bacteria.

What are spoilage bacteria, you ask? We all know there are good bacteria and bad in our guts and our fridges. The good is what makes beer beer and yogurt yogurt. The bad? That’s the stuff that causes our food to rot, stink and grow gross layers of slime or mold.

Spoilage bacteria isn’t the only yucky, microscopic stuff that’s prone to taking up residence in your fridge, either. You also have to think about gut-wreckers such as salmonella and E. coli, two bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses.

Though they’re different strains, all these bacteria have one thing in common — they thrive in damp, dark, warm environments. That’s why you want to make sure your fridge isn’t their ideal summer vacay spot.

Unfortunately, almost all food develops bacteria with time, regardless of how it’s stored. However, keeping it at the right temperature and following some important freshness tips (more on that below) will help slow the growth of bacteria, keeping your food fresher for longer. This saves you money and helps you prevent food waste.

Energy Efficiency

In addition to bacterial growth, a fridge set to the wrong temperature is one that probably isn’t operating as efficiently as it could be. In fact, setting your fridge too cold could result in up to 25 percent more energy usage. This means that you should definitely be paying attention to numbers and trying your best to keep things precise.

Not only does less energy mean a lower electricity bill for you each month, but it also means less strain on the planet. You spend so much time picking out sustainable kitchen products, so you definitely want to make sure you’re not working with an energy-hogging fridge.

You may have a fridge that allows you to set different zones to different temperatures. For example, you may want to keep your beverage compartment colder if you’re preparing to transfer your drinks to a cooler. If you want to take advantage of this feature, make sure you’re only using it when necessary and keeping the chill zone localized to a single area.

variety of foods organized in fridge

Our Best Tips for Keeping Food Fresh in the Fridge

Now that you know all about temperature, let’s go over a few simple tips for how to keep food fresh in the fridge. The truth is that, while temperature matters, it’s not the only thing that impacts how quickly food will rot. There are a few other things you need to keep in mind when optimizing food freshness.

1. Use Sealed Food Storage Containers

Storing your food in airtight containers blocks out odors, air and moisture, all of which can affect the flavor and texture of your food. If you want to make the switch to more eco-friendly kitchen products, consider choosing sturdier reusable food storage containers that won’t warp, stain or wear down over time. Wondering what materials to choose when picking food storage containers? Read our blog on silicone, plastic and more.

2. Use Reusable Silicone Food Storage Bags

Single-use plastic snack bags may be convenient, but they’re not great for the environment. Plus, the flimsy plastic is prone to holes and rips, which can let in bacteria-boosting air and moisture. Stash your fresh fruit, sandwiches, snacks and leftovers in reusable silicone bags to keep them fresher.

salad in silicone bags

Shop the Best Reusable Silicone Bags

3. Let Food Breathe

If you’ve got a big family or love to host, it’s almost impossible to avoid over-stuffing the fridge from time to time. But you don’t want to crowd your groceries. Too much food on the shelves and in the drawers can compromise airflow, which prevents the fridge from efficiently cooling. Make sure to give the food in your fridge plenty of room to breathe so it stays at the proper temperature.

4. Understand Ethylene in Foods

Ethylene is the “fruit-ripening” gas hormone that is emitted from fruit as it ages. For example, a ripening banana will start emitting this hormone as it browns on the countertop. Besides the obvious — you’ve got to eat the banana quick! — there’s no real problem with this. However, ethylene is a bit of a problem for the fruits that surround it. Placing ethylene-producing fruits (like bananas) near ethylene-sensitive foods (like leafy greens) can cause them to ripen faster. That means you should always store ethylene-producing foods separate from ethylene-sensitive foods.

5. Use the Crisper Drawer

The crisper drawer offers an environment that’s slightly different than the rest of your fridge, which makes it better suited for certain foods. However, you want to make sure you’re using it for the right items, since humidity can damage, ripen and encourage the growth of bacteria on certain foods. Typically, crisper drawers have humidity sliders so you can make them slightly more humid than the main compartment. Here’s how to set your drawers based on the food: 

  • More humidity is better for leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, fresh herbs, squash, berries and any food that’s sensitive to ethylene or is prone to wilting.
  • Less humidity is better for fruits and vegetables that are prone to emitting ethylene, such as apples, bananas, melons, peaches, pears and plums.

11 Tips for Keeping Food Fresh

6. Don’t Store All Produce in the Fridge

Not all food at the grocery store should go in the fridge. In fact, many foods will go bad faster when stored in cooler temps. As a general rule, store it how you bought it! If it wasn’t in the refrigerated produce section, it’ll be just fine in a fruit bowl on the counter or in the pantry. Some foods — onions, eggplant, apples, bananas, garlic, citrus fruits, etc. — may lose nutrients or develop an unsavory texture if stored in the fridge.

7. Check Expiration Dates

Expiration dates are by no means the final word in food freshness. In fact, many foods remain perfectly safe and edible with no impact on taste or quality long after their expiration date. With that said, the date on the packaging can be an indicator of when you bought the product, which can help you prioritize what to use up first.

8. Follow the First In, First Out Rule

The first in, first out rule is another great way to ensure that food gets eaten up in the order in which it was bought. Essentially, this just means prioritizing eating the food and beverages you bought first instead of the new stuff you just picked up at the store. When restocking the fridge, move all your older items to the front of the line and store new items in the back. It takes a little bit of extra effort, but it goes a long way!

9. Keep the Door Closed

We hate to sound like your mom, but you really shouldn’t stand in front of the fridge with the door open as you figure out what to eat. The truth is that keeping the door open lets in humidity and warm air, two things that cause bacterial growth and force your fridge to work harder. Keep the door closed as much as possible!

10. Give the Fridge a Tune-Up

When it’s working at its best, your refrigerator should be cold and dry. However, if something’s not working as well as it should, the fridge can easily turn into a dank, damp dungeon filled with moldy food. If you’ve noticed that your fridge seems to be slightly humid, check to make sure you don’t have a faulty door seal or blocked vents. Often, a simple cleanout or part replacement will do the trick. If not, check your refrigerator warranty or have it inspected by a professional.

11. Lean on the Freezer

The freezer isn’t just for frozen foods and popsicles! It can also store fresh foods so they stay fresher for longer and help you free up precious fridge space. Did you know you can freeze herbs, peppers, tofu, bread, shredded cheese and even egg whites? You can also freeze many sauces and liquids for use later. Just make sure to take them out of their original packaging and store them in freezer-safe silicone bags or covered ice trays. 

veggie rolls with fruit in storage container

A Little Food Storage Strategy Goes a Long Way

If you’re like most people, you probably unpack your grocery bags, put away your food and move on with your life without thinking too much about the environment in which it will live. But doing a little temperature tweaking and following the rules of freshness may be a small thing you can do that makes a big difference in your life!

Getting your food storage strategy right is a big deal because it helps ensure that you’re always consuming the freshest possible foods without putting too much stress on the fridge and the environment. But with the above tips and guidelines, you’ll be able to reduce food waste (as well as the guilt that comes with it) and save money at the same time.