Best Refrigerator Temperature to Keep Food Fresh

For the food in your refrigerator to stay fresh for as long as possible—no ice crystals on the lettuce or bacteria breeding in warm spots—the refrigerator temperature should hover right around 37° F. In the freezer, a temperature of 0° F will keep foods thoroughly frozen.

Knowing that, the reasonable step would be to set your refrigerator to those temperatures. But the temperature controls on many refrigerators only allow you to choose from a series of numbers—say, from 1 to 5, with 1 being the coldest and 5 the warmest. Even when refrigerators have digital controls that allow you to set a specific refrigerator temperature, the settings aren’t always accurate. But the temperature-measuring equipment Consumer Reports uses in its tests is extremely precise, down to a fraction of a degree, so we can tell you exactly where to set your refrigerator temperature to achieve optimal freshness.

 

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Consumer Reports

REFRIGERATORS

The EnergyGuide label on new refrigerators tells you how much electricity in kilowatt-hours (kWh) a particular model uses in one year. The smaller the number, the less energy the refrigerator uses and the less it will cost you to operate. In addition to the EnergyGuide label, don’t forget to look for the ENERGY STAR label. A new refrigerator with an ENERGY STAR label uses at least 15% less energy than non-qualified models, 20% less energy than required by current federal standards, and 40% less energy than the conventional models sold in 2001.

REFRIGERATOR-FREEZER ENERGY TIPS
  • Don’t keep your refrigerator or freezer too cold. Recommended temperatures are 35°-38°F for the fresh food compartment and 0° F for separate freezers for long-term storage.
  • Check the refrigerator temperature by placing an appliance thermometer in a glass of water in the center of the refrigerator. Read it after 24 hours. Check the freezer temperature by placing a thermometer between frozen packages. Read it after 24 hours.
  • Make sure your refrigerator door seals are airtight. Test them by closing the door over a piece of paper or a dollar bill so it is half in and half out of the refrigerator. If you can pull the paper or bill out easily, the latch may need adjustment, the seal may need replacing, or you may consider buying a new unit.
  • Cover liquids and wrap foods stored in the refrigerator. Uncovered foods release moisture and make the compressor work harder.
  • Regularly defrost manual-defrost freezers and refrigerators; frost buildup decreases the energy efficiency of the unit. Don’t allow frost to build up more than one-quarter of an inch.
LONG-TERM SAVINGS TIP

Look for the ENERGY STAR label when buying a new refrigerator. Select a new refrigerator that is the right size for your household. Top freezer models are more energy efficient than side-by-side models. Features like icemakers and water dispensers, while convenient, do use more energy.

More Appliance tips

General Appliance Tips

  • Unplug electronic appliances when not in use.
  • Upgrade your refrigerator if it is 10 years old or older. Refrigerators use more energy than any other appliance in your home, but an ENERGY STAR qualified refrigerator uses about half the energy of a 10-year old conventional model.
  • Clothes washers use energy to both clean clothes and heat water, so to save on energy costs, wash your clothes in cool water.
  • Run dishwashers only when you have a full load.
  • Use the air dry cycle on your dishwasher.
  • Use the oven less. Use microwaves, toaster ovens, and crockpots more often.