What temperature should you set your fridge to?


The refrigerator is an essential element of our modern kitchens: it ensures optimal food preservation while guaranteeing their health and safety. It is therefore important to set it at the right temperature to preserve the nutritional quality of food and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. So what is this temperature? Is it uniform throughout the fridge? How to optimize it? Insights from Évelyne Derens-Bertheau, research engineer specializing in the cold chain within the FRISE team at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Inrae).

Why is the temperature of a fridge so important?

Inadequate temperatures can encourage the growth of bacteria and mold, thus compromising the safety of your food, the expert immediately points out.

And explain: “It is essential to keep sensitive foods in the refrigerator, as cold slows down the multiplication of bacteria (without eliminating them). By maintaining a temperature below +4°C in your fridge, you can considerably limit the growth of micro-organisms responsible for the deterioration of food and stop the growth of the majority of pathogenic germs likely to cause food poisoning.

You would have understood it, respect the cold chain therefore limits the development of pathogenic bacteria and therefore the risk of poisoning. Indirectly, this also allows minimize food waste by maximizing the lifespan of the products concerned.

Good to know: at room temperature, bacteria multiply by 2 every 20 minutes​​​​​. A colony of 300,000 germs can thus count at least 2.4 million after an hour. As Évelyne Derens-Bertheau points out, temperatures below 4°C prevent the multiplication of the vast majority of these bacteria, but any break in the cold chain allows them to wake up and resume their developmentwhich may render food unfit for consumption.

What is the right temperature for a refrigerator?

Refrigerators allow you to store foods sensitive to positive temperatures which oscillate between 0°C and 8°C. “It is important to note that the temperature can vary inside a refrigerator,” emphasizes the refrigeration engineer. In fact, all fridges are equipped with:

  • from a cold area (between 0°C and 4°C) which allows the most sensitive products to be preserved such as meat, fish and preparations based on products of animal origin,
  • several cool zones between 4°C and 6°C which allow you to store less sensitive perishable products such as milk, yogurt, butter or eggs,
  • and D’a vegetable drawer whose temperature oscillates between 6°C and 8°Cwhich allows you to keep salads, carrots or even apples fresh.

Please note: the frozen food require lower temperatures and therefore find their place in the freezer, the temperature of which generally approaches -18°C.

Settings: how do I know if my fridge is cold enough?

The most recent fridge models generally display their temperature. If yours doesn’t, you can always place a simple thermometer inside your refrigerator for about twenty minutes. Position it in the middle of the appliance and away from the light, then close the fridge door and leave it there for a few minutes. Then check that the temperature displayed is correct within the recommended range. If necessary, consult your refrigerator’s user manual: manufacturers provide advice on the best temperature for each compartment.

If the compressor runs constantly without stopping, this may indicate a temperature too high. And if it doesn’t activate at all, it could indicate a temperature that’s too low. That said, if you notice persistent problems that you cannot remedy, it may be necessary to call in an expert to checks and possible repairs.

How to adjust the temperature of a fridge from 1 to 5?

As noted above, most modern refrigerators come with a digital temperature control system or a dial with numbers for easy adjustment. For example, if your refrigerator uses a scale from 1 to 5 for temperature adjustment, refer to your user manual. Generally, the scale of 1 to 5 is used to indicate decreasing temperature levels (or cooling capacity level): level 1 is generally the hottest setting and level 5 is generally the coldest. Either way, after adjusting the setting, the temperature will probably take a few hours to stabilize.

How to make sure the fridge stays at the ideal temperature?

To keep your refrigerator at an ideal temperature:

  • Correctly set your refrigerator thermostat.
    • Avoid overloading your refrigeratoras this risks hindering the circulation of cold air and compromising the efficiency of your fridge.
  • Check the tightness of your fridge door : make sure it closes properly and is airtight. “If your door does not close properly, it will let hot air in, which can cause an increase in internal temperature and compromise the quality and integrity of certain foods,” insists Evelyne Derens-Bertheau.
  • Do not open said door unnecessarilybecause every time you open it, you allow hot air to get inside, making the refrigerator work harder to maintain a cool temperature.
  • Make sure there is enough space between the refrigerator, wall and ceiling (“If your refrigerator is too enclosed, it risks overheating and not working as well,” warns the expert).
  • Also make sure the back of your fridge is clean. (the accumulation of dust and dirt on the grill at the back of the fridge can affect its proper functioning and lead to an increase in electricity consumption).
  • In the middle of summer, make sure your device not be directly exposed to the sun or located too close to a heat source.

What is the coldest part of a refrigerator?

All foods do not keep at the same temperature, recalls Evelyne Derens-Bertheau. Every fridge has a cold zone (0°C to 4°C), but its location varies between refrigerator manufacturers and models. “The coldest area is necessarily indicated by a small arrow in the fridge and is frequently located above the vegetable drawer », Specifies the expert. If this zone is above 4°C, change the thermostat! And if the cold zone is not indicated, it is because you have a temperature display, so it is up to you to set it to 4°C!

Good to know : crisper drawers and refrigerator door compartments are generally the hottest parts of refrigerators.

Arrangement and storage: how to properly organize and preserve food in your fridge?

Contrary to what one might think, the location of food in our refrigerator is very important… “Properly storing your food contributes to preserve their freshnesshas limit cross contamination and to facilitate access to different foods », Notes the refrigeration engineer, who specifies that the storage temperature is generally indicated on the packaging of the products, as well as the expiration date.

In the cold zone (0 to 4°C) store: raw meat and fish, homemade preparations based on animal products (mayonnaise, chocolate mousse, etc.), but also preparations made from meat in sauce and raw milk products. Other products can be stored in the rest of the fridge, where the temperature generally fluctuates between 4°C and 6°C.

Please note: Use the door to store condiments, drinks, sauces and less temperature sensitive items. “The temperature in the door can vary depending on how often it is opened and the tightness of the seals. Ideally, avoid placing foods that are too sensitive », souligne Evelyne Derens-Bertheau.

As for fresh fruit and vegetables, place them in the vegetable drawer which generally remains between 6°C and 8°C!

Our other tips for optimal organization:

  • Respect expiration dates to avoid consuming expired foods.
  • Remove excess packaging from products to avoid contaminating the fridge with micro-organisms which could be found on these cardboards and plastics and to promote the circulation of cold air, therefore the cooling of food.
  • Protect your partially consumed dishes by plastic films or aluminum to limit contamination.
  • Avoid putting hot dishes in the refrigerator so as not to significantly increase the temperature of the refrigerator and the food contained therein. “Place them in the refrigerator for a maximum of 1 to 2 hours afterwards to cool them in the refrigerator and not at room temperature where microorganisms could develop,” advises Evelyne Derens-Bertheau.
  • Do not leave the refrigerator door open for too long and be sure to close it properly after use.
  • Clean your refrigerator regularly or as soon as the surfaces are soiled by food, to avoid odors and bacterial growth.
  • Place the new foods in the back to use older products first and avoid waste.
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