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Home Care Library

Refrigerator Tips for Saving Energy & Food Safety

Your refrigerator is the fourth largest consumer of energy in most homes. This article and video gives you tips that will help you to reduce your refrigerator's energy use, and will also help you to protect the food safety and health of your family.


  1. Don't store perishable foods (eggs, milk, yogurt, etc.) on the door of your refrigerator, despite the nice fit. The temperature of the bins on the door can be about seven degrees warmer and can fluctuate more than the temperature in the cabinet. Items that are better to store on the door include condiments, sodas, and butter.

  2. To prevent the risk of bacteria, never defrost food at room temperature. Food should be defrosted in the refrigerator, in cold running water, or in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or the microwave should be cooked immediately.

  3. If you store items in your refrigerator like batteries (since cold prolongs their life) or candles (so they don't deform on hot days), then keep them in airtight containers so they are isolated from foods.

  4. Tightly cover liquids and wrap foods that you place in your refrigerator. If left uncovered they will release moisture into the compartment, making the compressor work harder. Plus, uncovered foods can absorb undesirable flavors.

  5. Your kitchen is a high-traffic area where dust accumulates quickly. The front grill of your refrigerator should be kept routinely free of dust and lint to permit free air flow to the unit’s condenser.

  6. Avoid using solvent cleaning agents, abrasives, or any cleansers that may impart taste to food or ice cubes, or may cause damage to the interior finish of your refrigerator.

  7. If you have an old refrigerator in your garage that is rarely used, you might consider getting rid of it, rather than incurring several hundred dollars per year in operating costs.

  8. Don't set your refrigerator's temperature too low. The colder it runs, the more it costs. Set the refrigerator's temperature to between 38 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer section to between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

  9. Leave space for cold air to circulate around your food in your refrigerator (at least an inch on all sides), and be sure not to block any air vents.

  10. Avoid putting warm foods directly into your refrigerator. Let them cool first and then put them in. But don’t let them sit out at room temperature for more than two hours.

  11. Try to minimize the time that the door is held open. Every time the door is opened, cold air escapes and the refrigerator works harder to replace it.

  12. Make sure the refrigerator is level or tilted back slightly so the door closes completely.

  13. Once a month, clean your door gasket with 1 tsp. of baking soda dissolved in a quart of warm water. In addition to cleaning the gasket, it will keep it soft and pliable.

  14. If you have a "spare" refrigerator in a garage or basement, be sure that this area does not go below 45° F.

  15. To accurately check the temperature inside your refrigerator, put a thermometer in a glass of water and place it inside on a shelf for 24 hours (see costs and reviews of refrigerator freezer thermometers).

  16. Your refrigerator works best when it's full, but be sure and leave space between items for proper air circulation. When the refrigerator is almost empty, put in a few bottles of water to help store cold inside when the door is opened.

  17. Keep the top of your refrigerator clear to allow good air circulation.

  18. Remove perishable items and turn your refrigerator to a warmer setting if you're going to be gone for an extended period.

  19. Many newer refrigerators have small heaters built into the walls to prevent moisture from condensing on the outer surface. If you are not having problems with condensation, then you can save energy by turning this feature off using the unit's energy-saver or power-saver switch.

  20. If your refrigerator has a black condenser coil mounted behind the unit, make certain there is a clearance of at least 2 inches from the rear wall to the coil at its closest point, 4 inches from the cabinet above, and 1 inch on both sides of the unit. This allows better air flow around the condenser coils, which helps the refrigerator cool more efficiently.

  21. Separate raw ingredients to minimize cross-contamination. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from each other and from cooked food and vegetables at all times: in your grocery cart, in grocery bags, in your refrigerator, and on your kitchen counters.

  22. If you have foul smelling odors due to spoiled food, then remove the offending food and clean out the inside cabinet with a mild soap and water solution.

  23. And for more effective de-odorizing, instead of baking soda, place a charcoal activated air deodorizer inside the unit near an air vent.

  24. Clean your refrigerator regularly and wipe spills immediately (with a mild soap and water solution, not bleach). This helps reduce the growth of bacteria and prevents drips that can allow bacteria from one food to spread to another.

  25. Refrigerate or freeze perishables right away. Use the "two-hour rule": never allow meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or other foods (including leftovers) that require refrigeration, to sit at room temperature for more than two hours.

  26. Be alert for spoiled food. Anything that looks or smells suspicious should be thrown out. Discard food that has started to display mold.

  27. If you are in a hurry to put hot food into your refrigerator, then it can be rapidly chilled in an ice or cold water bath before refrigerating.

  28. To bring food down to a safe storage temperature of 40ºF more quickly, a large pot of food like soup or stew should be divided into small portions and put in shallow containers (about 2 inches deep) for refrigeration. And a large cut of meat or poultry should be divided into smaller pieces, and sealed separately or placed in shallow containers.

  29. Test the temperature in your refrigerator in several places inside it, to ensure that it is below 40 °F throughout the entire cabinet.

  30. Raw meat, poultry, and seafood should be in a sealed container or wrapped securely to prevent raw juices from contaminating other foods in your refrigerator.

  31. You should use the special compartments of your refrigerator properly (helpful accessory: refrigerator storage). Vegetables require higher humidity conditions, while fruits require lower humidity conditions. An adjustable temperature meat drawer maximizes the storage time of meats and cheeses.

  32. Always use a properly grounded wall outlet and make sure your refrigerator’s power cord is in good condition and the insulation is not cracked or cut.
    If you have a refrigerator plugged in your garage, then it could be on a GFI (ground fault interrupter) circuit, and if it trips, you will lose all of your food there (helpful accessory: GFI testers).

  33. If your garage refrigerator is equipped with a power/energy saver switch, you should have it in the ON position in the summer and OFF position in the winter. This switch works as an anti-sweat device for reducing moisture content during summer months.

  34. Do not connect your refrigerator to a switched outlet where it may be accidentally turned off.

  35. Manually defrost your refrigerator whenever the frost is more than 1/4 inch thick. Frost acts as an insulator and makes your refrigerator work harder (consume more energy) to keep foods cold.

  36. When defrosting your refrigerator, it's important to keep refrigerated foods cold and frozen foods from thawing. Place the food in a cooler with ice packs, or place it in a box and cover it with blankets for insulation.

  37. Do not use any type of electrical heating device, ice pick, knife, or other sharp objects to remove frost, as this could damage the inner lining.

  38. Make it a weekly habit to throw out perishable foods that should no longer be eaten. A general rule of thumb for refrigerator storage of cooked leftovers is 4 days, and for raw poultry and ground meats, it is 1-2 days.

  39. The exterior of your refrigerator may be cleaned with a soft cloth and mild liquid dishwashing detergent, as well as cleansers and polishes that are made for appliance use (helpful accessory: refrigerator cleaner and deodorizers); but confirm with your manufacturer's recommendations.

  40. The bottom shelf of your refrigerator is the coldest part (since heat rises), and this is the best place to store fresh meats, fish, and poultry. The other benefit of storing these foods at the bottom is that any leaks will not drip down and contaminate other foods.

  41. It's usually fine to keep fresh meats, fish, and poultry in the original packaging, but they should be stored in a shallow dish that will catch any drips, to avoid cross-contamination with other foods.

  42. Keep cans covered (with plastic wrap or plastic lids) to prevent contamination from airborne bacteria. And make sure to use up canned leftovers in 24 hours.

  43. Since air circulates between the refrigerator and freezer compartments, odors from expired leftovers or spoiled produce can make everything from ice cubes to ice cream taste bad. Wipe up spills and toss expired perishables immediately.

  44. Marinate food in the refrigerator in a covered container to prevent evaporation that adds humidity to your refrigerator, making it work harder. Don’t put previously used marinade on cooked food after raw food has been sitting in it. Boil used marinade before applying it to cooked food.

  45. After being in your refrigerator, bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a boil before serving them.

  46. If you have a power failure, avoid opening the door to your refrigerator. If the power is out for more than 4 hours, then the temperature inside has likely raised to over 40 degrees F, and the food is at risk for bacterial growth.

  47. Follow these USDA guidelines on maximum refrigerator storage times: cooked leftovers (3-4 days); ground beef, veal, pork, lamb (1-2 days); chicken, turkey (1-2 days); hot dogs in opened packages (1 week); macaroni salad (3-5 days); fresh fish or shellfish (1-2 days); fresh eggs in shell (3-5 weeks).

  48. Never store flammable objects near your refrigerator. The refrigerator’s compressor, fan or motor can cause sparks and ignite flammables.

  49. Vegetable bins, meat drawers, and the bottom shelf are usually the most bacteria-laden areas, so you will want to pay extra attention to cleaning these areas.

  50. Condiments which have been opened should not be stored in the refrigerator for too long: mayonnaise (up to 2 months); salad dressings (up to 3 months); ketchup (up to 6 months); mustard (up to 6-8 months); jams, jellies, syrup (up to 6-8 months).

  51. Label and date foods stored in your refrigerator, and use food on a first in, first out basis. Leftovers that are not used within 3-4 days should be discarded. When in doubt, throw it out.

  52. High-protein foods and dairy products are especially susceptible to spoilage when stored too long or at improper temperatures. Store milk and eggs on a shelf of the refrigerator, not on the door where the temperature is usually warmer. Leave eggs in their original carton.

  53. Store opened food in zip-lock plastic bags or airtight containers to help keep food safe and fresh longer (see types, costs, and reviews of zip-lock plastic bags).

  54. Don’t place items in your refrigerator that don’t need to be there (for example, peanut butter, potatoes, jam, etc.).

  55. Defrosting frozen foods by putting them in the refrigerator for two days helps to cool down your refrigerator, so it has to work less hard and therefore consumes less energy.

  56. Wrap raw meat tightly so juices don't drip onto other foods. Be sure to keep separate from ready-to-eat foods like fruits.

  57. Remove kitchen magnets which could be a potential choking hazard for children.

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