Savvy homeowners look for ways to reduce their energy use in every area of their homes. And when it comes to home appliances, few use as much energy as your refrigerator. But if you’re tempted to adjust the temperature settings for a little savings -- think twice. Turning up the temperature can be a food safety problem, and there are safer and more effective ways to make your fridge and freezer run as efficiently as possible.
To ward off listeria and other foodborne bacteria, it’s essential that you keep your perishables no warmer than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. These foods can safely sit at room temperature for short periods, but not for more than two hours. After that, bacteria has all the time it needs to multiply and pose an illness risk.
That’s why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that you set your refrigerator thermostat to 40 degrees or lower. Since liquids freeze at 32 degrees, you’re left with a narrow 8-degree window for your refrigerator temperature. As for the freezer, the FDA recommends a setting of 0 degrees.
Newer refrigerators may have built-in digital thermometers to help verify proper temperature. But to be absolutely sure, it’s a good idea to get an appliance thermometer and to use it periodically to verify that your refrigerator is appropriately cold.
These thermometers are also useful for finding colder and warmer spots in your fridge. Try putting the thermometer in different areas, giving it a few minutes to adjust between each move. With experimentation, you’ll be able to identify the coldest and warmest areas so that you can put the most perishable foods -- meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers -- in the coldest spots.
With your food safe, there’s still room to get more efficiency out of your fridge and freezer. Since liquids and solids retain coldness better than air, the most effective thing you can do is keep your fridge and freezer relatively full. But don’t overdo it -- if these spaces are packed too tightly, there won’t be room for cold air to flow, and your energy efficiency could suffer.
If you don’t have enough food and beverages to keep both sections fairly full, a simple solution is to use containers of water to fill the empty space. It’s a cheap, easy way to lengthen the amount of time between cooling cycles.
Keeping a full fridge and freezer can also come in handy in the event of a power outage, as it will keep the spaces colder longer when cold air isn’t flowing in. If you keep the doors closed, food should remain safe for up to 48 hours in a full refrigerator and freezer.
And if your refrigerator is getting up there in the years, you might consider replacing it with an ENERGY STAR-certified model to experience a big jump in energy efficiency.
If you’re looking for other ways to reduce your energy use in the kitchen or any other part of your home, contact an experienced local electrician without delay.