Is 43 degrees safe to store food?
September 15, 2013 7:54 AM   Subscribe

My new mini fridge will not get colder than 43 degrees and I have it cranked up to max cold. I have gone through 2 of these fridges now and it seems they don't get colder than that. Is it safe to store food in there or will it make me sick. My fridge thermometer that I bought says than anything above 40 is in the "danger zone" .
posted by john123357 to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, it depends what you're keeping in there - soda or beer, sure, and I'd probably keep veggies in there too. Not meat, not dairy. (I've definitely had mini-fridges that got cold, btw, so maybe you want to try a different brand.)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 8:01 AM on September 15, 2013

Response by poster: I live in a college dorm so it's the only fridge I have. I have been storing everything in it milk, meat, cheese, vegetables ect.
posted by john123357 at 8:04 AM on September 15, 2013

I'd only worry about the meat. I wouldn't put raw chicken legs in there and expect them to still be good three days later, but you'll probably be fine to keep stuff for a day or so.
posted by jon1270 at 8:08 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: One comment deleted. john123357, please stop threadsitting.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:12 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't keep raw meat or milk in a fridge at that temperature for more than a day. Food safety guidelines would not permit even that. I'd keep veggies, cheese, dry sausage, etc. in there for several days. 40 degrees is not a magic temperature below which bacteria don't multiply; rather, it's a temperature low enough to inhibit bacterial growth while not freezing the food.

A lot of foods like hard cheese, dried sausage, cured ham, etc. were invented specifically to allow long-term storage at or near room temperature, basically by drying and salting food, or by surrounding it with a protective crust.

On the other hand, raw meat, especially chicken and ground meat, is a bacterial feast, and should be kept below 40 degrees. The bottom of most fridges is the coldest spot, which is why the meat drawer is usually there.

If you can control the heat in your room, you might get the fridge below 40 by lowering the heat and layering up. Or you could look for a higher-quality mini fridge.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:17 AM on September 15, 2013

If you're in a dorm and it's the school's fridge, put in a work-order request to have it fixed/replaced. If your fridge doesn't go below 40 degrees, it's broken.
posted by Precision at 8:19 AM on September 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

Have you gotten that reading in the previous two fridges using the same thermometer? If so, could the thermometer be at fault?
posted by tiger tiger at 8:33 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

43f is considered the food danger zone by the USDA. I wouldn't store meats and proteins in there for very long.
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 8:37 AM on September 15, 2013

I was just reading something on mini-fridges that suggested this is more common than you think, it's just that not a lot of people check. Maybe have a couple random people on your floor use your thermometer and see if theirs are much better.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:00 AM on September 15, 2013

43 degrees is not safe for groceries or cooked foods.

Many mini refrigerators are meant to hold snacks and drinks, not raw meat, etc. Also, thermoelectric mini fridges are especially bad at cooling. You want one with a compressor. This is an area where you definitely want to read the reviews before buying.

The highest CU rated (and that was only 57 out of 100) cube compact refrigerator I have seen is the Danby DCR059BLE. All the others rated in the 20s. This seems like a big drop in quality from the ones we had when I was in college, but on the other hand those used verboten CFC coolants.
posted by slkinsey at 9:24 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: What does CU rated mean?
posted by john123357 at 9:36 AM on September 15, 2013

43F is too warm for safe storage. But check your thermometre by sticking it in a container of ice water; it should read 32 and if it doesn't get a new thermometre.
posted by Mitheral at 9:58 AM on September 15, 2013

43 is inside the temperature danger zone, but it's not all too far into it. If you were a restaurant, you'd fail a health department inspection.

However, it is close enough that all that will realistically happen is that your food will spoil sooner than normal. It's not a hard line, it's more of a continuum: spoilage happens at any temperature, it's just that it happens faster the warmer something is. So the difference between 39 and 43 isn't all THAT much. Especially if you are conscious of it and make adjustments.

(Meaning, food in a 43 degree fridge will be just as spoiled after 3 days as food in a 39 degree fridge after 6. Made up numbers, but something like that.)

Also realistically, most people's home refrigerators are probably not adjusted particularly well either, so your food's lifespan might not change from what you are used to.

Another thing to worry about is recovery time. A small refrigerator will "lose all its cold" much sooner when the door opens. And will take longer to get back down to its lowest temperature. So the more you open the fridge door, the quicker your food will spoil.
posted by gjc at 11:33 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

State-certified food handler here. I keep my home fridge set to 34 F and my temperature shows it to be at 36 F.

As noted, higher than 40 F is in the danger zone. See this link to learn why it's called "the danger zone". Even being a little bit enough 40 F is enough to allow bacteria to multiply at a very fast rate. 43F would be intolerable for a commercial kitchen. Of course, just about every home kitchen would fail a health inspection, including mine e.g I don't wear food prep gloves when I make myself a sandwich

That said, I would not use your fridge for things that are shelf-stable like soda or beer. Fruits and vegetables should also be fine. I would not keep animal protein in it. Improperly spoiled meat can make you very sick even though it does not smell spoiled.

Since you have already gone through two of these fridges, buy a different fridge of better quality.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:08 PM on September 15, 2013

Here's a pdf I just found that shows the growth rates of various bacteria at various temperatures. It varies widely.‎
posted by gjc at 12:45 PM on September 15, 2013

if at all possible get one of the slightly taller mini fridges that are sort of bar sized, instead of just a straight up cube one. you want one of the more rectangular ones.

i have never, ever seen a cube fridge that wasn't a depressing hunk of shit. the slightly larger ones get plenty cold though.
posted by emptythought at 3:34 PM on September 15, 2013

It's a simple as what slkinsey said. If you want to store food in a mini-fridge, you need one with a compressor. The other type are only good for soda/beer and perhaps things like a lunchable.
posted by dhartung at 4:13 PM on September 15, 2013

What does US rated mean?
CU rated is Consumers Union rated. Consumers Union recently changed its name to that of the magazine it publishes, Consumer Reports. It's a nonprofit that does independent testing of household products and provides objective information.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:19 PM on September 15, 2013

Response by poster: The one I have is a vissani 10 cubic feet fridge/freezer it's quite large and has a compressor.
posted by john123357 at 4:39 PM on September 15, 2013

Where is the fridge? Is it close to a wall? Make sure there's enough room behind it for air to circulate around the coils. Otherwise, the unit can't work efficiently, and it will never get down to a cold enough temperature. Leave it that way long enough, and you'll kill the compressor.
posted by SobaFett at 6:50 PM on September 16, 2013

Response by poster: i have it about 5 inches away from the wall
posted by john123357 at 3:25 PM on October 16, 2013

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