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To Chill or Not to Chill
Basics of Cooking Lesson Series
Related Resources
All Busy Cooks Cooking Lessons
Once a Month Cooking
Stock Your Kitchen
Food Safety
Kitchen Cleaning Tips
Always Chill
Always Freeze
Chill After Opening
Do Not Chill
Chilling Not Recommended
Do Not Freeze
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The refrigerator is a great place to store foods. But do you know which foods should not be refrigerated? Which always should? When should you refrigerate foods? And how long do foods stay safe and fresh in the refrigerator? Read TO Chill or Not to Chill for the answers.

First, let's learn a little bit about refrigerators.

  • Your refrigerator should be set to a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This is low enough to help slow enzymatic processes and the growth of bacteria, but not cold enough to affect food quality by allowing ice crystals to develop. It's a good idea to keep a refrigerator thermometer in the fridge to make sure the temperature is low enough for food safety.
  • Always cover food in your refrigerator. The air inside your fridge is extremely dry and foods will quickly dry out, lose quality, and become unappetizing in a short period of time if not covered. Covering foods also prevents bland or delicate foods (like dairy products) from acquiring odors from other foods (like cabbage).
  • The cool temperatures in the refrigerator slow down the process of enzymes in the food and slow down bacteria reproduction. This prolongs food quality, taste, and texture, and keeps food safer longer. Refrigeration does not kill bacteria and can not improve food quality.
  • Don't be afraid to put hot foods in the refrigerator. The appliance is made to cool down foods. The chilling process will happen more quickly in the fridge, once again giving bacteria less time to grow in the temperature danger zone of 40 - 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a large casserole or dish that needs to be chilled, separate the foods into smaller, shallow (no more than 3" deep), individual containers for faster cooling. It can take a pot full of hot chicken soup 24 hours to cool to a safe temperature in the refrigerator! Divide and conquer bacteria!
  • Don't overload the refrigerator. There should be enough space between foods that air can freely circulate around them. This way the temperature will be more even throughout the appliance.
  • Use your refrigerator thermometer to check the temperature of the crispers and shelves. The coldest part of your fridge is not the place to store fragile foods like lettuces and delicate fruits. In my refrigerator, the top shelf is the coldest spot; lettuces develop ice crystals there, so I make sure to store them on a lower shelf.
  • Foods that need refrigeration should be placed in the refrigerator within 2 hours after eating to help prevent bacteria growth. If the ambient temperature is more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit, that time safety zone shrinks to 1 hour. Don't violate this rule!!!
  • At least once every three weeks, remove everything from your refrigerator. Working quickly (remember the 2 hour rule!!), wipe down all the interior surfaces with a baking soda solution. Dry thoroughly. Pay attention to the seals and gaskets too. I used to turn off my fridge while cleaning, but now I just let it stay on so it reaches the recommended temperature more quickly after refilling. The fact that my food is still safe and good quality more than compensates for the amount of power I may waste.
  • What's your RIQ? (Refrigerator IQ, that is) Take a quiz!

On the following pages, printable charts list foods that fit into each stated category, along with extra tips and the general length of time they can be stored before eating. Just make sure to read labels for the final word on storage times and food handling.

Next page > Foods That Must be Chilled

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