Underusing the refrigerator thermometer can put you at risk

It is an important food safety practice to use a refrigerator thermometer but many do not practice this.

Does your fridge have a refrigerator thermometer built into it? This is the actual gauge that reads what the temperature of your fridge; not the dial that lets you adjust the temperature. In a 2016 Food Safety survey conducted by the Food and Drug Administration, 35 percent of respondents stated that their fridge does not have a build in thermometer. In addition, 84 percent stated that they had not put a thermometer in their fridge.

Can’t we just tell if it “feels cold?” The answer is no – the same answer you would get if asked if you can visually see that meat is cooked thoroughly. Feel is a subjective measure, and cannot be counted on to determine if your fridge is cold enough. Most people don’t know what the temperature should be in their fridge. In this same survey, only 40 percent of respondents correctly answered that the refrigerator should be 33-41 degrees Fahrenheit, 44 percent stated they didn’t know and the rest answered incorrectly.

The temperature of your refrigerator and freezer is critical to ensure that your food is safe. If the temperature is maintained above the recommended level, you are placing the food, and those that eat it, at risk. Temperature control is one of the key factors in food safety. Bacteria grow in warmer conditions, and the danger zone that promotes bacterial growth is 40 and 140 F, so by keeping your refrigerator above the recommended level, you are allowing the bacteria to multiply. Your refrigerator temperature should be 40 F or less, and your freezer should be 0 F or less.

The best place to put a thermometer is in the warmest spot – which would be near the door, not tucked away in the back. Glance at this daily to be sure it is maintaining a cold temperature. If the power goes out, this is an important tool to have on hand so you know if the temperature has risen to an unsafe level. When the power comes back on, it is important to check your fridge and freezer temperature and if the refrigerator or freezer is still 40 F or colder than your food is safe. You can refreeze the freezer food if it has started thawing. The quality may be less than it was before thawing because of the loss of water and potential for freezer burn, but it is still food safe as long as it did not enter the danger zone.

Michigan State University Extension supports safe food handling and offers food safety programs to the community, check with your local Extension office to find out more. 

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