How to Improve the Performance of Your Fridge

There's a decent chance your fridge is running too warm. Follow these steps to optimize the performance of your refrigerator.

Published Nov. 19, 2021.

It’s happened to most of us at some point. You find that your vegetables are spoiling—or your milk is turning sour—faster than usual. In my case, it was the bread. I proof mine overnight in the fridge, and despite the fact that I’d changed nothing in my successful formula and routine, my loaves were suddenly turning out horribly flat and overproofed. 

These are all signs that your fridge is running warm. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recommends that all areas of your fridge operate at or below 40 degrees to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. 

You can and probably should buy a refrigerator/freezer thermometer to monitor those temperatures, especially if you live in an area where power outages occur frequently, as our favorite thermometer will also tell you how long your fridge or freezer has been operating in the danger zone.

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But if you don’t have one, there’s an easy way to find out what temperature your fridge is operating at, as suggested to me by a FSIS specialist when I was working on that fridge/freezer thermometer review: Simply use your instant-read thermometer to temp anything in your fridge. Liquids such as your carton of milk or orange juice are easiest, but you can really try anything, including leftover mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, or marmalade. Provided your food has been in there a while, it’ll have the same temperature as the fridge. My milk temped at 51, far above the safe zone.

This method also has the advantage of letting you know exactly how different areas of your fridge might differ. The top shelf might run colder than the bottom, for example. 

What do you do once you find out your fridge is running warm? A few things, according to FSIS and Consumer Reports:

  • Make sure that no containers or items of food are obstructing the cool-air vents in your fridge. If the cold air can’t circulate, areas of your fridge will warm up.
  • Turn down the temperature of your fridge slightly. The goal is to get your temp to 40 degrees or lower.
  • Don’t store perishable items in the door, where the temperature is often warmer. Keep eggs in a carton on a fridge shelf to keep them from spoiling.
  • Don’t put hot food in the fridge. Let it cool down as much as possible before adding it to the fridge to keep it from warming up other things you keep in there.
  • Clean your fridge regularly. Vacuum dust and debris from your fridge’s condenser coils (under or behind the fridge itself) to keep it from overheating, and make sure that the gaskets around the fridge door are clean and form a good seal with the unit itself, trapping cold air inside.
  • Don’t store appliances or packages on top of the fridge, where they might prevent heat from the fridge from dissipating properly.

With these simple steps, you can optimize your fridge’s performance and keep your food from spoiling faster than it should.

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Photo: AndreyPopov, Getty Images

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