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Best Refrigerator Temperature to Keep Food Fresh

By Daniel Wroclawski

Last updated: June 11, 2019

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.

Armed with this information, you’d set your refrigerator to those temperatures, right?

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. To further complicate matters, even when refrigerators have digital controls that allow you to set a specific refrigerator temperature, our tests have found that the settings aren’t always accurate.

But the temperature-measuring equipment Consumer Reports uses in its lab tests is extremely precise, down to a fraction of a degree. As a result, we can tell you exactly where to set your refrigerator temperature to achieve optimal freshness.

How We Test Refrigerator Temperatures

When a new batch of refrigerators comes into our labs, we start by setting the ambient temperature in our climate-controlled chambers to 70° F, to simulate conditions in most home kitchens.

Then we determine which thermostat setting on each refrigerator will get the internal temperature in the center of the unit to between 36° F and 38° F. We do the same thing in the freezer, experimenting until we get the freezer temperature to between -1° F and 1° F.

“Some refrigerators are spot-on, but others are wide off the mark,” says Joe Pacella, CR’s test engineer for refrigerators. “I’ve seen a few refrigerators be off by as much as 5°, which can be the difference between fresh food and spoiled food.”

It’s important to note that we don’t penalize refrigerators for inaccurate settings. Most refrigerators are capable of maintaining consistent temperatures once they reach the optimal level. The point is that you need to know how to get them to the 37° F and 0° F marks. And that’s why we include this information in the Features & Specs tab of our refrigerator ratings chart. You’ll find the ideal temperature setting for refrigerators with digital controls, and the ideal numeric value for models with that type of thermostat.

What if your fridge isn’t one of our tested models? Your best bet is to buy a refrigerator thermometer, available online and at home centers for a few bucks, and conduct your own experiment. The thermometer won’t be as exact as the sensitive thermocouples we use in our lab, but it should get you within a degree or so of the perfect refrigerator temperature to keep your food fresh, tasty, and safe for as long as possible.

If you’re in the market for a new refrigerator, see our comprehensive refrigerator buying guide and ratings. Here are five impressive options, all of which excel in our test for thermostat control.

This blog article was courtesy of Consumer Reports!

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