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For a refrigerator, if it's cooler, items like milk and meat last a bit longer. However if I set it close to freezing then some items start showing frost on them. What temperature should I set my refrigerator to for best overall results?

Since the person answering is likely to know, I'm also asking what temperature I should set my freezer to.

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what if someone puts the gage up to 5 on the freezer and it only goes to 5 it seems like it creates freezer burn and I ma trying to explain that that may not be good. should you turn your freezer up as far as it should go? if not could you help me to explain to them why not. He insists that that is the way it should be. –  user7768 Oct 24 '11 at 21:18
    
Freezer burn should be prevented by better wrapping. Freezer control position should be set based on a thermometer. –  derobert Oct 25 '11 at 19:52

6 Answers 6

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Daniel is spot-on with his answer. I'll elaborate on it a bit here.

As indicated by his bottled water in the freezer trick, a full freezer is a happy freezer. The same applies to the refrigerator too. While I wouldn't put random bottles of water throughout my refrigerator, it's important to know that the fuller your refrigerator is, the more it holds its temperature when opening/closing, and the less energy you'll use. However, you don't want to jam pack it so full that there isn't any airflow around your stuff, because this can hamper the cooling efficiency as well.

The ideal refrigerator temperature is 35°F (1.6°C). You're not hugging the danger zone like you would be at 40°F (4.4°C), and you're distancing yourself sufficiently from 32°F (0°C) that you don't freeze half the stuff in your refrigerator. That said, the temperature within your fridge can vary rather significantly with normal usage.

The coldest parts of your refrigerator are the back, and the bottom. The back because the cooling element is there, and the bottom because warm air rises. If items you don't want frosty are getting frosty, then move them away from the back of the fridge. I would avoid putting items in the door of your fridge that are particularly sensitive to spoilage. The items in the door of your fridge can easily get as high as 59°F (15°C), and do so often. Putting milk and eggs in your door will significantly decrease their shelf life. Butter is OK in the little covered section in the door, because the door actually helps keep it's temperature a little better. You also generally don't want rock solid frozen butter.

So, put your meats on the bottom shelf in the back, your condiments (mayo, ketchup, mustard, etc.) in the door, and put everything else where it fits.

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The warmest location differs depending on brand & model (my fridge is certainly colder near the top than near the bottom, probably because the cooling element is at the top...). I'd suggest people test out their own fridge about that and use it accordingly. And in any case the back will have a more stable temperature than the front, because of being further from the door. –  JanC Aug 30 '10 at 15:04
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If you have a split fridge-freezer with the freezer on top, the cooling is almost certainly from the top, as it works by diverting some of the cooling going to the freezer. (This is why the freezer temperature control effects both fridge and freezer, btw) –  derobert Oct 25 '11 at 19:47
    
You mention Roux's answer, but I can't seem to find it. Can you add a link? Thx! –  samthebrand Jun 4 '13 at 22:06
    
@SamtheBrand I'm pretty sure daniel, the abandoned user, was roux. You've already seen his answer. –  Jefromi Jun 21 '13 at 17:10
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I want to add that I have tested the different areas of my last two fridges, and the door is not significantly different than the rest of the fridge. Maybe 1°F lower if at all. I think that is a myth, or was relevant for fridges made 30 years ago. The top vs bottom however does vary due to air current from the cooling system. To get items to 59°F would require leaving the door open for 20 minutes or more. Simply not going to happen. –  Bort Oct 26 '13 at 14:40

Normally a domestic freezer is best set to −18 °C (0 °F) or colder, as that's what the expiration dates for many food items are based on. It's also a requirement for freezers in restaurants, supermarkets & other places that sell food (at least here in Europe) to maintain a temperature of at most -18 °C.

A general purpose domestic fridge should be at around 1-4 °C (so, just above the freezing point, and below 5 °C). Normally it's not possible to set a fridge to 0 °C (at least not over here), but sometimes the temperature sensor doesn't work as intended, especially if there is a freezer compartment that is heavily frosted.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refrigerator has some more info, and also lists some alternative temperatures for special purpose fridges & freezers, e.g. for fresh fruit a normal fridge is too cold.

Some refrigerators are now divided into four zones to store different types of food:

  • −18 °C / −0.4 °F (freezer)
  • 0 °C / 32 °F (meats)
  • 5 °C / 41 °F (refrigerator)
  • 10 °C / 50 °F (vegetables)
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Why do I need to keep my freezer at 0 °F, which is 32 °F below freezing? 0 °F (−18 °C) seems like such an arbitrary number. Is there some biological significance to that temperature? –  Stefan Lasiewski Apr 18 '12 at 17:20
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@stefan : it's because stuff in the freezer isn't pure water. Stuff like an 'enhanced' chicken (where it's been injected with salt water) won't freeze at the same freezing point as water. 0°F is where a non-agitated saturated salt water solution will freeze, but I have no idea at what point something like a non-enhanced chicken will freeze (I suspect lower than 32°F) –  Joe Jul 9 '12 at 19:53

In order to keep food out of the Danger Zone, your fridge must be set between 32-40°F (0-4°C). Your freezer must be below 32°F (0°C). I keep mine as cold as it will go. Keep your freezer efficient by half-filling it with bottles of water.

(I'm not sure if this question will stand, as it is broadly off-topic. But there is a specific and expert answer, so...)

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+1 for the frozen bottles trick. –  Rake36 Aug 7 '10 at 19:13
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@roux, what is offtopic about this question? –  Mike Sherov Aug 7 '10 at 20:14
    
@mike: it's not about cooking per se. My reading leads me to believe it's kind of on-the-fence, I think it's sort of off-topic, but I didn't vote to close and will defer to the judgement of others. –  daniel Aug 8 '10 at 5:49
    
@roux, it's certainly about food storage, which is definitely on topic, and even has it's own tag. –  Mike Sherov Aug 8 '10 at 14:41
    
Like I said, I'm on the fence. I don't think it really applies, as it is such an easily googleable question (and no I don't want to get into that argument). And, again, note that I didn't vote co close. –  daniel Aug 8 '10 at 15:50

I've always been told to keep freezer at 0 F, with fridge no higher than 40 F. Alton Brown recommended buying a pair of those hanging temperature gauges (one for each compartment).

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+1 for fridge thermometers. I never trust an appliance's self-reporting temperature, I've had enough ovens with hot spots to always be wary. With our fridge, our crisper drawer regularly frosts and partially freezes our veggies, and with a thermometer I was able to determine why - it's significantly colder down there than the 35F the rest of the fridge is set on. By at least 5-8 degrees. Yikes. –  stephennmcdonald Aug 9 '10 at 18:11

If you keep potatoes in the fridge they should not be stored at temperatures below 7 °C (45 °F). If, that is, you intend to use them for roasting for frying. At lower temperatures the starch in the potato breaks down giving a burnt look and a bitter taste after roasting.

My fridge, which stands about six foot, appears to have almost 4 °C of difference between the temperatures at the top and at the bottom. This means I could have potatoes at the top and items that spoil more easily lower down. At least I could do that if the piece of junk would maintain a consistent temperature.

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Interesting comment. I've never EVER stored potatoes in a fridge... there's never been room for the huge bags I buy! –  Paul McMillan Aug 8 '10 at 3:50
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Potatoes should actually be stored at room temperature, not refrigerated. –  Darin Sehnert Aug 8 '10 at 4:11
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Following what Darin said, I'd keep them out of direct light as well. –  Ocaasi Aug 8 '10 at 4:39
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The ideal temperature range to store them is between 7°C and 9°C. The potatoes will stay dormant in the cool (i.e. they won't sprout). Room temperature ought to be fine if you don't store them for prolonged periods. In the fridge they will keep for a couple of months. –  Chris Steinbach Aug 8 '10 at 6:42
    
According to "Keeping Food Fresh" by Janet Bailey: Some foods need temperatures warmer than your refrigerator but cooler than your pantry. Fresh potatoes and winter squash for example keep best at a temperature of around 50°F. to 55°F. An unheated porch, garage or attic may be the right spot for storing quantities of these foods for longer than a week or two. –  Jeff Axelrod Jan 10 at 2:30

the best temperature for milk should be 1 to 4 degrees celcius or 34 to 39 fahrenheit.

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This is a very incomplete answer. Nobody has only milk in their refrigerator. –  rumtscho Oct 10 '12 at 21:29

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