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Are they simply "cold" or "not cold", or does the degree of coldness make a difference? Does it depend on what is being refrigerated?

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Your refrigerator should be set so that it maintains a temperature no higher than forty degrees F. This means that you shouldn't be opening the door frequently or leaving it open longer than necessary. If you are aging beef in that refrigerator, you want the temperature to be no more than thirty-five degrees F according to some sources, but these sources conflict.

Below 32 degrees F you are obviously duplicating the functionality of your freezer, but not as well.

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One thing I've seen time and again- make sure the food is at or below forty. Just because the air in your fridge is at forty doesn't mean that your food is making it down to that temp. I normally keep mine about three degrees colder than the temp I want the food to stay at. –  sarge_smith Oct 25 '10 at 21:59
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Your refrigerator should be cold as possible without having any cold-spots where things will freeze. Inadvertently freezing vegetables or meat really slowly (as is apt to happen in a spot that is just slightly below the freezing point) will damage them in taste and texture.

Proper airflow keeps temperatures more homogenous; you should make sure to allow proper airflow by leaving small gap in the back and sides of fridge. It is not a good idea to cram bags and others in your air space as it will create uneven cooling.

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Full fridges keep the temperatures inside more constant and require less energy to keep cold. It also prevents as much heat loss as an empty one when the door opens. It's the same priciple as the thermal mass in your oven just on the other side of the line. –  sarge_smith Oct 25 '10 at 21:57
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@sarge_smith: If your fridge is "stuffed full" to the point where airflow is blocked, the temperature sensor won't respond properly. If you rarely use your fridge, sure, the temperatures will even out everywhere (over the course of days), but many items within the fridge are excellent at insulating one region from another (bags, jars, tubs) if they are jammed into every available space. –  Nick T Oct 26 '10 at 14:42
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slightly changed the answer, if you approve. if you don't, you can hit the rollback to change it back. –  sarge_smith Oct 26 '10 at 17:39
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