The 5 Most Important Things to Know About Your Refrigerator

updated May 3, 2023
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(Image credit: Gina Eykemans)

Where would we be without refrigerators? If you’ve ever lost electricity for any period of time (as I have recently, thanks to the intense heat and an overloaded electrical grid), you understand quite quickly and keenly the crucial role the refrigerator plays in everyday life. That’s why it’s one of the five greatest breakthroughs in food science, and rightfully so.

You’d think — given how essential the fridge is to cooking and eating — we’d know everything there is to know about this amazing piece of machinery, but as with anything we take for granted, little details get lost in the daily rhythm. Wait, at what temperature should it be set? How do the crisper drawers work again? We have the answers to those questions, and more.

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

The 5 Most Important Things to Know About Your Refrigerator

1. How to check for the correct temperature.

The ideal temperature range for the fridge is 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything above 40°F is considered an “unsafe zone,” which means that food is susceptible to spoiling or growing harmful bacteria.

How can you know what temperature your fridge is set at? Buy a refrigerator thermometer. When a health inspector visited Faith’s home kitchen, he sold her on the importance of a freestanding fridge thermometer, which you can place anywhere in the fridge to monitor its internal temperature: “He explained that he likes to keep a thermometer in the refrigerator door, which is one of the warmer places in the fridge, so you can see how cool it gets. The back of your refrigerator could be staying cool enough, but the milk in the door might be sweating in a too-warm environment.”

Once you’ve established the correct temperature, keep it that way! Here’s how.

(Image credit: Chris Perez)

2. How the crisper drawers work.

If you’ve ever wondered if those crisper (also known as humidity) drawers really do anything,

you are not alone.

If you have two crisper drawers at the bottom of your fridge, designate one for low humidity and one for high humidity. The low-humidity drawer should be used for fruit, and have its vent almost all the way open (or on a scale of eight to nine, if your drawers are numbered rather than labeled) to prevent ethylene gas buildup. The high-humidity drawer should be used to store vegetables, and the vent should be only slightly open (on a scale of two to three).

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

3. How to organize it for ease and safety.

As Christine told us, professional kitchens organize their refrigerators based on the temperature the foods need to be cooked to, with no-cook or prepared foods getting the top shelf and high-temperature foods, like chicken, sitting on bottom.

This strategy applies to home refrigerators as well: Ready-to-eat foods should be kept on upper shelves; meat and raw ingredients should be kept on the lower shelves, and possibly in a separate bin.

And the door — the warmest part of the refrigerator — should be reserved exclusively for condiments, not eggs or milk. (It’s too warm for them.)

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

4. How to make sure it runs as efficiently as possible.

Is your refrigerator losing air, or does it appear to be churning harder than it needs to? The following habits can help maintain and extend the life of your fridge: Check that the door seal isn’t weak and releasing cold air; make sure all food is covered and cooled before it goes in, so the fridge doesn’t have to work overtime to remove excess heat and moisture; and vacuum the condenser coils periodically to free up the fridge to work at its full capacity again.

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

5. How to clean it.

Finally, it’s vital to know how to properly clean the fridge! If you’re really on top of things like some people, you’ll clean out and reorganize your fridge every two weeks! But whenever you do get around to it, you’ll feel good knowing you’ve done a thorough job of it.