When to Put Food in the Refrigerator

Cooking - When to Put Food in the Refrigerator

Many people ask if it is safe to store hot food directly in the fridge. Perishable items, like fruit and vegetables cut from fresh sources as well as cooked leftovers should be placed into the fridge within two hours after preparation for safekeeping.

Refrigerators designed for modern living can safely handle hot food. Just ensure a thermometer is always present within your fridge to monitor temperatures.

Perishable Items

Foods that require refrigeration to preserve them include meat, fish, eggs, dairy and cooked goods. When exposed to high temperatures they quickly spoil and create an environment in which harmful bacteria thrives – potentially leading to foodborne illness and spoilage.

The “two-hour rule” is an excellent rule of thumb: never leave foods that require refrigeration out at room temperature for more than two hours at a time, such as luncheon meats, ham and corned beef as well as leftovers and take-out food items.

Refrigerators also help to limit the growth of bacteria on foods like lettuce, tomatoes and carrots by freezing molecules within them – this prevents moisture absorption by airborne molecules that allow bacteria to form, as well as helping keep temperatures down in your fridge.

When purchasing perishable goods, it is advisable to do so from stores or supermarkets with refrigerated display areas. This will reduce the chance that mishandling occurs, leading to your food spoiling before you get the chance to consume it. It is also wise to check sell-by or use-by dates on food items; this gives an indication of their shelf life under refrigeration.


If you have leftovers that you are not planning on eating right away, refrigerate them as soon as possible. Prolonged exposure to room temperature increases the chances of bacteria spoilage which could result in foodborne illness – and could make you sick too!

According to the USDA, most cooked food should be refrigerated within two hours if still hot; or you can store foods such as chia pudding, soups and salads up to three days in well-covered or airtight containers if in a rush.

Nonetheless, if you suspect your leftovers may be going bad and no longer fresh, take steps to inspect and dispose of any that smell spoiled, look dull or contain mold. Furthermore, refrigerating all leftovers as soon as possible and placing older foods nearer the back or bottom of the refrigerator helps ensure they won’t spoil before you can eat them all.

Hot Foods

As soon as a hot pot of soup enters your fridge, its ambient temperature can become elevated and put it directly into the “danger zone” for bacteria growth, potentially contaminating all other foods and beverages in it with harmful pathogens.

If you don’t have enough time to let hot food cool before refrigerating it, try these tricks. They may help accelerate the process significantly:

Dividing food into smaller containers before refrigerating it helps individual portions pass quickly through the danger zone and remain safe from spoilage. Furthermore, don’t stack containers of food in the fridge; space them out to allow air circulation for quicker cooling.

Idealy, luncheon meats should be stored on the top shelf of your refrigerator away from raw foods and fresh produce to minimize bacteria contamination. If this option is unavailable to you, storing such items in a covered container with paper wrapping should do just fine – either way ensure their cleanliness!

Fresh Produce

Refrigerating fresh produce is an efficient and healthy way to cut back on grocery store trips while minimizing food waste. But properly storing fruits and vegetables requires striking a delicate balance between receiving all of their essential vitamins and minerals as well as having them reach maturity or spoilage at just the right time for consumption.

Fruit and vegetables sold at grocery stores are typically harvested early to account for travel and storage, which may interfere with their natural ripening processes. Therefore, certain items, like avocados and bananas should not be refrigerated but instead stored at room temperature until needed.

Other fresh produce, like tomatoes, should also be kept refrigerated to extend their shelf life and make smarter shopping choices. Understanding which produce must be kept cold is key to making informed purchases.

Bakery Items

Bakery foods such as cookies, macaroons and cakes should generally be stored in airtight containers at room temperature to help retain a good level of moisture and avoid freezer burn. However, according to Luminary Bakery, this advice applies more strictly for items made with cream-based recipes or raw dairy ingredients; such items are less susceptible to spoilage but should still be refrigerated to not encourage harmful bacteria growth.

Refrigerators should be used to store both reheated and uncooked foods as long as their temperatures stay under 40 degrees Fahrenheit, since this temperature kills any harmful pathogens such as bacteria. When placing hot food into your refrigerator, place it on the bottom shelf so cold air can circulate around it more freely for faster cooling processes. Furthermore, your fridge must also be properly stocked to separate raw products from ready-to-eat options.


Substances best kept on condiment shelves are best placed near the fridge door because this area of the freezer is the warmest part, according to Schwan. That way, they can withstand temperature changes caused by room-temperature air coming in and out of the fridge; she recommends keeping items like ketchup, mustard and mayo along with nonperishable beverages in this part of the fridge.

“Condiments” is an umbrella term encompassing any food added to another, though most commonly it refers to foods that do not lend themselves well to being consumed plain. From tomatoes on hot dogs and hamburgers to blue cheese on their top buns – condiments add flavor that make our meals more appetizing.

Most store-bought condiments, however, contain unnecessary additives and extra sugar and salt. To find healthier options that fit the bill, look at homemade salsa, tahini, or guacamole with less added sugar and preservatives or traditional pesto which boasts nutritious ingredients such as olive oil and Parmesan cheese while providing zinc for immune support and wound healing.

Canned Foods

Canned foods provide families with a quick meal solution when time and schedule don’t permit home cooking, however some must be stored in the refrigerator to preserve quality and prevent foodborne illnesses.

Experts advise transferring canned foods from their original cans into airtight containers before refrigerating. This will enhance their flavor by decreasing any “canned” taste, and also help prevent spoilage; open spaces within cans allow flavors and odors from other refrigerators to seep through and affect how fresh it tastes.

When storing canned food, you must follow the instructions on its labels and verify its expiration date for optimal use. If a can begins to go bad quickly, discard it immediately; signs include bulged or dented cans with foul smells and mold growth.

Dairy Alternatives

Many people are opting for plant-based milks and cheeses as alternatives to cow’s milk for various reasons, be it health concerns, dairy intolerance issues or simply to reduce their carbon footprint. Plant-based alternatives provide calcium and protein while potassium, Vitamin A and B-12 may also be provided through these dairy alternatives.

Many consumers may question if dairy-free foods should be kept refrigerated, yet many don’t realize they contain bacteria that should be kept refrigerated to avoid food poisoning.

Refrigerating food soon after cooking is ideal; within two hours is even better, since bacteria thrive in a “golden zone,” the area between room temperature and refrigerator temperatures where bacteria thrive quickly. To speed up cooling time, put food into smaller containers or give it an ice bath; simply put, ignoring this rule could cost both money and spoilage of produce! These are just some of the foods which should be stored in your fridge; failure to do so could result in wasted money and wasted product!

The Proper Way to Store Food in Your Fridge
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