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     Refrigerator and Freezer Temperatures
       excerpted from Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House Copyright © 1999 by Cheryl Mendelson

    From Chapter 11: Cold Comfort

    Desirable refrigerator and freezer temperatures; relative humidity...What foods should be stored in the refrigerator...Guidelines for refrigerator storage: how to store butter, coffee, spices, oils...Should you leave supermarket wrappings on?...Avoiding refrigerator odors; which foods cause and take odors...How to refrigerate produce; which fruits and vegetables should be placed in bags...When a cool storeroom would be better than a refrigerator...Refrigerating eggs, leftovers, fresh herbs, ROP or MAP foods...How long leftovers will keep...Freezer storage; which foods should not be frozen...Power outages

    The refrigerator -- the reason we get to eat fresh foods all year long -- has taken the place of the hearth as a symbol of the comfort of food. The image of a woman's face lit by the fire as she stirs a cheerfully bubbling pot has been replaced by the image of someone's face lit by the refrigerator light as he or she peers in, looking for something to munch on. Fires and hearths were beautiful and inspired hundreds of poetic images, but few poets have composed verses about refrigerators, which are ungainly and ungraceful. In fact, to compare someone or something to the homely refrigerator is a common form of humorous derogation. The associative power of food, however, is such that, despite the refrigerator's aesthetic deficiencies, we are comforted by its hum much as people were once comforted by the crackling of the fire, and when we open a malfunctioning refrigerator to find darkness and warmth we feel an emptiness that is something like what people used to feel when the fire was dead and cold.

    Despite how important our refrigerators are to us, practically and emotionally, most people probably underuse or misuse these splendid machines. Experts on home food storage would like us to rely on them even more than we have been accustomed to, and to be a bit more careful in doing so.

    Refrigerator and Freezer Temperatures
    Generally Speaking. To keep your food safe and ensure its long life, you must keep your refrigerator cold. The USDA says to keep your refrigerator at 40° and your freezer at 0°F. Other food-storage experts say that your refrigerator compartment is best maintained at temperatures above 32° and below 40°F, say 34-38°F. The ideal storage temperature for many refrigerated foods, in fact, is as close as you can get to 32°F without freezing. But according to the 1999 Food Code (a U.S. Public Health Service set of model regulations for food services without the force of law), studies show that home refrigerators are far too warm, with typical homes showing refrigerator temperatures between 41° and 50°F, one in four with temperatures over 45°F, and one in ten showing temperatures of 50°F or higher!

    Because it is so important, and so difficult, to gauge whether your refrigerator is actually in the safe temperature range, get a thermometer for your refrigerator and another one for the freezer compartment. "Refrigerator-freezer thermometers," which register temperatures from 70°F down to -30°F, can be bought at a hardware store or home center. The thermometers will tell you quickly when something is going wrong and will help you select the desirable control setting. If you do not have a thermometer, you can tell that your refrigerator is too cold if milk or leftovers get ice in them. It is too warm if you notice that milk turns sour too quickly or that things do not feel quite cold to the touch.

    Frequently opening the refrigerator raises its temperature, so you should avoid doing so unnecessarily. The refrigerator may also tend to warm up in hot, humid weather. The more foods you crowd into your refrigerator, too, the warmer the foods may be; crowding interferes with the free circulation of air. Aside from these factors, your refrigerator may also have warmer and colder regions inside, depending on its type and design.

    Frostless and self-defrosting refrigerators tend to have uniform temperatures throughout. But the coldest place in many refrigerators is likely to be the bottom, because heat rises. The meat drawer is often thought of as the coldest spot, but it may or may not be so. In manually defrosted refrigerators, in which the meat tray is right under the freezer, this may be the case. (If you are in doubt, use your thermometer to find out.) The bottom of your refrigerator, too, may not be much colder than the top nowadays because fans in many refrigerators circulate the air and keep the temperature much more uniform. The difference between the bottom and the top of my own refrigerator is only one degree. Wherever your refrigerator is coolest, and at the back of the shelf, is where you should keep fish, fresh meats, poultry, and milk and other fresh dairy products, as well as any other foods that need cold temperatures. (Remember that fish spoils even more readily than meat; it should always be kept very cool.) Ideally, all these would be stored just above freezing, at 33° or 34°F. (Don't let them freeze.) But if your refrigerator will not keep things this cold, do not worry; they keep well as long as temperatures are at 40°F or below. Most leftovers should also be kept at 40°F or below.

    Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House
    Virtually everyone enjoys a crisply ironed dress shirt, clean sheets on a well-made bed, and a savory home-cooked meal. Yet housekeeping today stands as a somewhat neglected, if not maligned, job. But as author Cheryl Mendelson points out in Home Comforts, keeping house well can be a rewarding position--it allows you to provide for the physical and emotional comfort of loved ones. It's also not an easy job--there's much to be learned about properly managing a home, and Mendelson has set out to provide a guide to doing just that.
    Mendelson, a homemaker, lawyer, and mother, learned about housekeeping from an early age from her grandmothers, one Appalachian, the other Italian. The two grandmothers taught her that although different ways of keeping house can be appropriate, there are generally smarter, faster, and more creative ways of housekeeping that make it less of a chore and more of an art. In a practical, authoritative tone, Mendelson discusses the ins and outs of homemaking, such as washing dishes, recommended cleaning methods for various surfaces, housekeeping for those with pets or allergies, and emergency preparedness and safety procedures.

    Mendelson's well-researched book includes meticulous sections on food (for example, which foods belong in the fridge versus the pantry, food storage times, picking the freshest fruits and vegetables, and keeping your kitchen and food sanitary) as well as laundry (caring for various fabrics, how to read--and read between the lines of--clothing care labels, and removing stains). Mendelson covers a lot of ground, and as she herself points out, readers shouldn't feel required to do everything mentioned in the book--simply pick the activities that seem appropriate for your particular home. This is a comprehensive reference book that should serve homemakers well and induce a greater appreciation for the effort and specialized knowledge that go into keeping house. --Kris Law

     



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