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Refrigerator tips to keep your family safe and your food fresh

Thermometer in a refrigerator

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, refrigerating food at 40 degrees F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Studies suggest listeriosis could be reduced by 70% if refrigerator temperatures are less than 40 degrees F. However, University of Tennessee researchers found only 9% of consumers have a refrigerator thermometer.

How to check your refrigerator temperature

Use a refrigerator thermometer to check that the air temperature in the refrigerator is at 35-38 F and the freezer is at zero F or below. The temperature of the food in your refrigerator should be 40 F or lower, as measured with a food thermometer.

To check the refrigerator temperature:

  1. Place the thermometer in the warmest part of the refrigerator.
  2. After 24 hours, check the thermometer.
  3. If the thermometer reads above 40 F, adjust the control dial according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Times when your refrigerator thermometer might read higher than 40 F:

  • Refrigerator overfilled more than 3/4 full.
  • Thermometer recently placed inside the refrigerator.
  • Refrigerator door left open for an long time.
  • Hot foods recently put in the refrigerator.
  • During the refrigerator's automatic defrost cycle.
Clean refrigerator with thermometer.

Safe refrigerator tips

  • Store raw meat, poultry and seafood on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator in pans so juices don't drip onto other foods.
  • Check refrigerator temperature often, daily or at least once a week
  • Refrigerate prepared food and leftovers within 2 hours of cooking.
  • Divide leftovers into small, shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator. Cover when food is cooled.
  • Don't overload the refrigerator. Cool air must circulate to keep food safe.

Food safety hotlines

USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline.
Answers to your questions by phone or email.

FDA's Food Safety Information Hotline.

  • Phone: 1-888-SAFEFOOD (1-888-723-3366) 24 hour recording.

AnswerLine. A service of University of Minnesota Extension and Iowa State Extension.
Call to talk directly to an Extension home economist for answers on food safety and other household topics. Hours are Monday through Friday from 9:00 – noon and 1:00 – 4:00 p.m.

  • Phone: 1-800-854-1678 (in Minnesota) 1-800-262-3804 (in Iowa).
  • Email: answer@iastate.edu.

Suzanne Driessen, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2018

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