Keep Cool and Keep Perishable Foods Cool!

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In the extreme heat of the summer, we have made every effort to keep cool. Have you taken the same steps to keep your perishable foods cool?

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), refrigeration at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Microorganisms grow more rapidly at warmer temperatures, and research shows that keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below helps slow growth of these harmful bacteria.

The best way to make sure your refrigerator is maintaining the recommended temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below is to check it with a refrigerator thermometer. This thermometer is a separate tool that stays in the refrigerator and displays the actual temperature. It is not a numbered dial that helps you adjust temperature. Refrigerator thermometers are available at grocery, discount and hardware stores and are recommended for all home refrigerators. When using a refrigerator thermometer, follow these important tips:

  • Always follow thermometer manufacturer instructions for placement of the thermometer inside the refrigerator.
  • Make sure your refrigerator thermometer reads 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Keep in mind there are normal events that might cause your refrigerator thermometer to temporarily read higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. These include:
  • initial placement of the thermometer inside the refrigerator
  • a refrigerator door opened for an extended period of time
  • hot foods recently placed in the refrigerator
  • the refrigerator’s automatic defrost cycle
  • Your refrigerator cycles on and off. You should check the thermometer at the time your refrigerator compressor just turns on. This is when your refrigerator is at its highest temperature. If the thermometer reads above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, adjust the control dial consistent with the refrigerator manufacturer’s instructions.

In addition to using a refrigerator thermometer to maintain the temperature at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, follow these rules:

  • Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods and leftovers within two hours of purchase or use. If the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, reduce the time frame to one hour.
  • Always marinate foods in the refrigerator.
  • Never defrost food at room temperature. Thaw food in the refrigerator. For a quick thaw, submerge food in cold water in an airtight package or thaw in the microwave if you will be cooking it immediately.
  • Separate large amounts of leftovers into small, shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.
  • Do not overload the refrigerator. Cold air must circulate to keep food safe.
  • Use or discard chilled foods on a regular basis.
  • As you approach 32 degrees Fahrenheit, ice crystals can begin to form and lower the quality of some foods such as raw fruits, vegetables and eggs. A refrigerator thermometer will help you determine whether you are too close to this zone.

While you are trying to stay cool, always remember the food safety rule – keep perishable foods cool!

Source: Adapted from The Partnership for Food Safety Education’s (PFSE), BAC Down! campaign.

North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Cleveland County Center, for more information on food and nutrition and food safety, contact Nancy Abasiekong by phone: 704-482-4365, by e-mail:, or by mail: 130 South Post Road, Suite 1, Shelby, NC 28152