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It is important to know how cold a refrigerator should be and how to adjust the temperature level of each section.  When a refrigerator’s temperature settings are correct, it will store food and drinks safely to keep food from spoiling, prevent illness from the growth of bacteria, and reduce food waste. 

Temperature Basics

For starters, do not set the temperature colder than necessary. It is important to keep perishable items cold, but not so cold that vegetables lose their freshness. The ideal refrigerator temperature is between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit in the main part of the fridge, with the optimal temperature at 37 degrees Fahrenheit.  The refrigerator temperature should always remain under 40 degrees in all sections. Many newer fridges come with built-in digital thermometers to check the temperature of a refrigerator

Older refrigerators, may not maintain the same temperature all over so it is important to put two thermometers in an older fridge. Place one on the top shelf closer to the back and the other on the bottom shelf closer to the front. Check both regularly.

Keeping the refrigerator and freezer full can also help regulate the temperature inside. If they aren't full, try putting bags of ice in the freezer, or pitchers of cold water in the fridge.

Storage Basics

Containers in a refrigerator

Avoid heating up the inside of the fridge by inserting containers holding hot food or drink. Instead of putting hot food straight into the fridge, let it cool as close to room temperature as is safe for the food or the recipe. This will keep the fridge from using more electricity than necessary to maintain a cold temperature. 

Marinate or thaw frozen food in the fridge, not at room temperature, and seal thawing or marinating food in a dish with a lid to prevent cross-contamination. Don't leave perishable foods out of refrigeration for more than two hours. If the ambient temperature is over 90 degrees, the limit is one hour. Cooked or takeout food must be refrigerated within two hours. Divide up large batches of food. Use several shallow containers to help food cool faster. As you prepare food, follow safe food-handling procedures.   

If bad weather is forecast, prepare ahead of time for a possible power outage. Freeze water in quart-size plastic bags. You can place the bags in your refrigerator or freezer to help preserve the cold if the power fails. If you lose power at home, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed for as long as possible. 

Produce Storage Temperatures

Produce drawers in a refrigerator

Most refrigerators come with two produce storage drawers to store fresh food in low- or high-humidity conditions. Depending on the refrigerator model, each drawer’s settings may be able to be adjusted separately so each have fixed humidity levels. Newer refrigerators often have a compartment-wide pantry drawer with adjustable temperature. 

A low-humidity setting or drawer is designed for produce that expel a lot of ethylene gas and aren’t prone to losing moisture. The drawer vents the gases to keep the produce from rotting so quickly. For best results, this drawer should only be filled two-thirds full. Low-humidity produce are typically fruit.  

A high-humidity setting or drawer is designed produce that are sensitive to ethylene gas exposure. This produce needs higher moisture levels to stay fresh. The high-humidity drawer is sealed to keep moisture in. This seal also helps prevent exposure to any gas that escapes from the other produce drawer. The drawer will prevent produce from drying out or wilting. Keep this produce drawer about three-fourths full for best results. High-humidity produce are typically vegetables, with the exception of most berries. 

Pantry Temperatures

Refrigerator pantry drawer

The pantry drawer in a refrigerator is a useful feature. It's a full-width section with a separate temperature control from the rest of the unit that allows for the storage of larger items like party trays or wine, or even smaller items like snacks, canned drinks, or food storage containers, which all fit particularly well.

There are usually several pre-programmed temperature settings for wine, deli items, soft drinks and fish. Keep wine at around 42 degrees Fahrenheit. Store deli meats at 37 degrees Fahrenheit. The ideal temperature for soft drinks is 34 degrees Fahrenheit.

Freezer Temperatures


The temperature of a freezer should be set at 0 degrees Fahrenheit so everything stays very cold. A freezer should be cold enough to keep food frozen and preserve it until they are ready to be cooked or reheated.

Just as with a fridge, place an appliance thermometer in the freezer to make certain the temperature is optimally set and check it regularly to make sure it stays constant. 

Don’t put too much food in the freezer.  Chilled air must be able to move evenly around the food to keep it frozen. 

If the power goes out, keep the freezer door closed as much as you can. When the door stays closed, a freezer can keep food at an OK temperature for around 48 hours. Anything in the freezer should still be safe to refreeze or eat if it has stayed below 40 degrees. It's also OK if ice crystals are visible on its surface. Discard any food that's been held more than two hours above 40 degrees. 

Refrigerator Use Impacts on Temperature

Man looking into a refrigerator

Not only are thermostat settings important for keeping refrigerators and freezers at the right  temperature, the way an energy efficient refrigerator and freezer is used directly impacts the unit's temperature and efficiency.  Proper use can lead to big energy savings. The most obvious tip is to not keep the refrigerator door open for long periods while looking for food.  The best way to prevent this is to keep the refrigerator ad freezer clean and organized.  

Ready For a New Refrigerator?

Consumers buying a refrigerator

See the Energy Saver page on purchasing refrigerators and freezers.  Also see ENERGY STAR's refrigerator product page.