Learn Your Refrigerator’s Zones for Optimal Food Storage

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
I need help!  I like my milk very, very cold, so the temperature in my fridge is very low (38 degrees), but my produce keeps freezing.  I do keep some produce in the produce drawers, and some I put on the top shelf to see if that worked better, and the jury is still out on that one.  Some things did better, and some did not.  How can I have my milk cold and my produce crisp?
Limpy Lettuce

learn your refrigerator's zones

38 is actually a great temperature for your refrigerator, but my theory is the cooling space of your appliance isn’t all sitting at 38F.

Get to know your refrigerator’s zones.

Your refrigerator may have very distinct zones, which may be much colder (or warmer) than the temperature indicated, depending on the sensor’s location. Get yourself a thermometer for your refrigerator. They are quite inexpensive – roughly $6 on Amazon, significantly cheaper than a service call, no?

Over the course of a day or several days, set the thermometer in different locations in your fridge. Shut the door and allow the refrigerator to do its thing undisturbed for a couple of hours. Please don’t just pop the thermometer on a shelf and stand there waiting for the needle to stop moving. You won’t get accurate results. The door needs to be shut long enough for the refrigerator to cycle and the temperature to return to normal. Write down the temperature of each zone and create a map of your refrigerator.

Want to learn more? How to Break an Egg: 1,453 Kitchen Tips, Food Fixes, Emergency Substitutes

How do I know where my refrigerator’s zones are?

Well, it’s going to depend a lot on the layout of your particular appliance, but generally, the upper area is cooler than the bottom. In general, drawers are more about either organization or humidity than temperature, unless there is a drawer at the bottom of the appliance for holding meat. This drawer may have a small vent from the freezer that keeps this portion of the refrigerator extra cold.

You may find that the temperature of your refrigerator is different from the one indicated. Adjust your refrigerator’s thermostat accordingly or simply change your storage habits. It may be time for a service call if it’s wildly different.

Ivy, my former partner, once wrote about How to Minimize Food Waste by Thinking Like a Kitchen Manager. It’s a great post explaining the first in, first out concept and other ways to reduce the amount of food waste in a home kitchen.

Additionally, storing produce in a refrigerator isn’t as simple as just opening the door and plunking it on a shelf. Produce is very persnickety about silly things like humidity. Aside from cooling food – one of your refrigerator’s most important jobs is removing excess humidity. The slider on your refrigerator’s produce drawer is more than just a nifty little decoration, it opens and closes a vent to allow or prevent the circulation of moisture from the drawer.

how to clean appliances
Click the picture for more tips!

The Unclutterer has an old, but highly useful guide to storing produce in a refrigerator.

Have fun getting to know your appliance!

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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3 thoughts on “Learn Your Refrigerator’s Zones for Optimal Food Storage”

  1. I was having a issue not long ago with my freezer not freezing properly. It was an old one, so it didn’t have a digital temp control – just the knob labeled 1-7, the higher the number the ‘colder’ it got. I had two fridge thermometers, one in the freezer and one in the fridge. My freezer one was saying that freezer was at 20 degrees but I kept having problems with stuff defrosting. Turns out my evaporator coil was shot and I ended up replacing the fridge.

    My new fancy bells & whistles fridge has the digital readout – currently 37 in the fridge and 0 in the freezer. I happened to glance at the old thermometer recently – it said the freezer was at -15. Moved it to the fridge side and it said the fridge was at 30 degrees. I dont think so – nothing is frozen. So now in addition to the new fridge, i have a new ‘backup’ refrigerator thermometer.

  2. OH, the repair guy that came out to serivce the old fridge, said to keep the door closed for at least 15 minutes before checking the thermometer.

  3. When our repairman came to check our fridge, he said to put the thermometer in a clear glass filled with water to get a more accurate reading. Most things are in containers and this should be a better way to get true temps.


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