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I notice that in both countries where I lived the fridges are kept at 6 or 7 °C (43-45 °F). When it would be colder, people find their drinks to cold, when served straight out of fridge (especially in winter). Also a lower temperature would cost more energy.

What would be the best temperature for food storage. Would that be even lower? For storing meals, how much time longer would food stay good when the fridge would be colder?

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5 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The USDA says refrigeration temperature should be 40°F (4.4°C) or below. If food is in there at a higher temperature (such as the 43-45°F the question mentions), for longer than 2 hours, and they're saying the food isn't safe.

Keep in mind that when too cold, after a while parts of things freeze, which can damage items, or severely diminish their pleasant taste. This especially goes for produce such as lettuce or even tomatoes. If you want to store leftovers longer, consider freezing them.

Edit: corrected to 40°F or below

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Actually that link says "40 F or below", which is an important difference. In practice, I'd recommend aiming for around 36 so that you have some headroom, and to allow for variation in different parts of the fridge. That also leaves you a few degrees above freezing so you don't inadvertently ruin anything that way either. –  Michael at Herbivoracious Feb 11 '11 at 0:14
    
Indeed. Thanks, @Michael - edited accordingly. –  zanlok Feb 11 '11 at 1:00
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Optimum temperature range for perishable food storage is 3 to 5 °C (37 to 41 °F).

I've noticed that there are differences in temperature inside the fridge. I think the top is a bit more colder than the bottom, I don't really know why. I keep my lettuce and tomatoes in the bottom, otherwise they'll be a bit frozen (like zanlok said).

So things that'll go bad fast (e.g. meat) go in the top.

Another thing (which I learned on House M.D.): don't put your milk in the door. The temperature there is more fluctuating so the milk becomes sour more rapidly than if you'd put it inside the fridge.

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I own a temperature gun and tested my fridge the other day, there is a 19°F difference between the top of the top shelf and the bottom of the bottom drawer. Buying a temp gun was one of the best things I ever did, now I can position things in my fridge based on info like this. The good news is, the warmest part of the fridge is at the temperature I set it at (38°F) and the drawer is very very cold (19°F), which explains why some things freeze in it on me. –  stephennmcdonald Feb 10 '11 at 16:22
    
I should add because I realize I wasn't very clear - the top of my fridge is warmer, the bottom shelf is cooler, and the bottom drawer is the coldest. –  stephennmcdonald Feb 10 '11 at 18:19
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In my limited experience with half a dozen configurations for refrigerator/freezer combo units, the area closer to the freezer is colder, and the area furthest is warmer. If you have a side-by-side combo, it may even be one side that's colder, and not much difference in top or bottom. –  zanlok Feb 10 '11 at 21:02
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Ah, that explains why I think the top is colder. Normally, the heat would rise to the top. –  Mien Feb 11 '11 at 0:22
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Regardless of what target temperature you choose remember that most domestic fridges cannot maintain that temperature reliably over the day and cannot maintain it evenly throughout the fridge. This error is generally improved with a full fridge

The best way is to measure it is with and accurate and calibrated thermometer on the shelf's you wish to store critical stuff, not the temp setting dial built into the fridge

4°C is common as it preserves milk well, but vegetables can suffer this low

It would be great if fridges came with four or five compartments, each with their own temp setting :-)

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Different countries have different food safety standards. I'm accustomed to 4°C, which is the North American standard. However, in Europe I see that eggs are sold unrefrigerated and cheese is often kept unrefrigerated in people's homes, so I think there's a cultural component to the tolerated level of risk and the expected consumption time frame.

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in fact, cheese matures better when not refrigerated and will taste better as a result. That doesn't mean room temperature though, but a cool but not cold place in the fridge (which larger European fridges often provide in a compartment where there's no cooling but is connected through air vents to the cooled area). –  jwenting Jan 13 '12 at 8:53
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It also depends on the food items you want to preserve. Meat and especially fish should be cooler and vegetables and fruits a little bit warmer. The 4ºC guideline mentioned is correct. Notice that most fridges are warmer at the top and colder below.

Fish should be close to 0ºC for two reasons. 1. The enzymes of the fish will keep working (even when frozen) and 2. The bacteria of fish will be less affected by lower temperatures. The reason being that fish are cold blooded animals that live in a cold environment.

So, there is no one ideal temp. but a range from 0ºC - 5ºC for food preservation.

On a side note, family of mine have their fridges at higher temperatures so beverages come out warmer than we are used to. So, there again, there is not one ideal temperature but whatever you (and your peers) are used to.

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protected by rumtscho Apr 16 '13 at 14:53

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