Battle Refrigeration!
October 23, 2005 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Taming an uneven refrigerator? You know how one can increase the performance of an oven by leaving a pizza stone in it? I'm wondering if the same can be done with a fridge.

Our refrigerator is one of the crappy kind that has only a single temperature adjustment and doesn't maintain an even temperature throughout. Near the freezer, food freezes and toward the bottom my vegetables aren't cold enough. It rankles. Also it spoils a lot of food.

Since a pizza stone or similar stored in an oven helps maintain a consistent internal temperature by absorbing heat when the oven overheats and radiating heat when the oven temperature drops, the oven just plain works better with a big ole heatsink inside of it.

What occurs to me is that a similar trick could be employed in my fridge. Perhaps if I were to store those blue cold packs or similar throughout the fridge, the internal temperature could be kept more even. Has anyone out there experimented with this or something similar? Failing that, is there a better way to increase the performance of a crappy refrigerator? Bonus points will be awarded for solutions that also lower the humidity of the refrigerator.

One caveat is that the fridge is miserably small and techniques that require taking space away from food storage are less than ideal. And no, our landlord has no interest in buying us a new fridge.
posted by stet to Food & Drink (19 answers total)
 
Other than increasing the insulation around the fridge (and perhaps keeping the fridge it's self somewhere which is already quite cold) theres nothing hugely easy you can do to improve the fridges performance without leaving lots of bags full of antifreze or alcohol in there or something. In fact, how about just keep 5-6 bottles of wine / other highly alcoholic beverage in there or failing that just several litres of water? The alcohol should make them better conductors of heat as well.
posted by alexst at 1:29 PM on October 23, 2005


I keep a couple of bottles of water in my freezer, and I move them to the refrigerator when the electricity goes out during storms or when I'm moving a large pot of something warm (soup, stew, sauce) into the fridge.
posted by cribcage at 1:34 PM on October 23, 2005


As said above, keeping your fridge full will improve it's efficiency. This would be especially true I think if you opened it a lot. The stuff inside the fridge will lose heat less rapidly than the air within diffuses from the fridge. Here are some actual tips (browse through to about the bottom)
posted by substrate at 1:46 PM on October 23, 2005


maybe scotch ice, rotating them every few days from freezer to fridge?
posted by amberglow at 2:10 PM on October 23, 2005


Heh. I do love a solution that encourages me to keep even morebooze in the house. I'll give that a shot.

From substrate's link, I note that the crappy seals on the door might be a problem. Does anyone have any experience replacing the seals on a fridge?
posted by stet at 2:17 PM on October 23, 2005


Cleaning the fridge's coils also helps improve performance. And sometimes keeping heavy things on the door prevents it from making a good, tight seal.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:22 PM on October 23, 2005


when I'm moving a large pot of something warm (soup, stew, sauce) into the fridge.
posted by cribcage at 1:34 PM PST on October 23 [!]


That is just not a good idea - completely counterproductive. Let yer food chill down to room temp first, then refrigerate. You're overtaxing it otherwise.
posted by dash_slot- at 2:49 PM on October 23, 2005


dash_slot-: Whilst I personally agree with you, the counter-argument I've been faced with was that it's "better" to put it in the fridge, as it (obviously) cools down faster, thus minimising the time the food is sitting on the bench at the lovely, warm, best-temperature-for-growing-bacteria.

Me? I like my immune system to be healthily challenged from time to time ;)
posted by coriolisdave at 3:22 PM on October 23, 2005


That is just not a good idea - completely counterproductive. Let yer food chill down to room temp first, then refrigerate. You're overtaxing it otherwise.

From the electricity point of view, yes, but from the food safety point of view, I understand that this can be disastrous. A quick search for internet sources to back up this claim suggests that food should never be left out for more than 2 hours. Your anecdotal evidence may not confirm this, but it is really all about risk management.
posted by advil at 3:28 PM on October 23, 2005


I like my immune system to be healthily challenged from time to time ;)

You've clearly never personally known anyone who's had serious food poisoning ;)
posted by advil at 3:29 PM on October 23, 2005


"doesn't maintain an even temperature throughout"

I've always been under the impression that the fridge isn't supposed to keep an even temperature throughout, that's why the butter "cupboard" is on a different level than the crisper. Aren't you supposed to store things on different shelves according to the amount of cooling they need?
posted by blue_beetle at 3:31 PM on October 23, 2005


Our refrigerator is one of the crappy kind that has only a single temperature adjustment and doesn't maintain an even temperature throughout. Near the freezer, food freezes and toward the bottom my vegetables aren't cold enough.

My first suspicion is that your compressor is going. Does it make a lot of noise when it turns on and off? Does the compressor seem to run constantly? That could translate to being unable to keep the freon evenly compressed, and therefore able to absorb cold, as it were.

But there are a number of other maintenance things to try. Make sure that any airflow or drain between the freezer and fridge is clear of obstruction. It can accumulate moldy sludge if anything in the freezer melts -- or it can just fill up with ice. Then I'd check my door. Is the door properly aligned? It might create a gap that can seriously impede the efficiency of the fridge. You should be able to "catch" a dollar bill pretty much all the way around the gasket. If the door is aligned but the gasket is old, it may need replacement -- a part usually around $20-30 that you can order through your local appliance or hardware store. Make sure you have the exact model number.
posted by dhartung at 3:40 PM on October 23, 2005


How about a pizza stone?
posted by smackfu at 6:42 PM on October 23, 2005


How about a pizza stone?

Well gosh, then my pizza would be cold!

As dhartung suggests, I'm going to see if maybe the fridge is borked to the point where our landlord *has* to buy us a new one. This is my preferred outcome. I'll be cleaning the coils and doing other maintainence as well.

Regarding the get-food-poisoning/have-a-warm-fridge dilemma, Alton Brown suggests using a cooler full of ice to cool large pots of stock and what-have-you prior to putting them in the fridge. This keeps the fridge cool and gets the food out of the "danger zone" for food spoilage pretty quickly. OTOH, I rarely find myself with a cooler full of ice in my kitchen.

Thanks all.
posted by stet at 8:10 PM on October 23, 2005


I was taught in cooking school to never put hot stuff in the refrigerator. If you do, the whole refrigerator is warm enough to grow bacteria (between 40F and 140F). In cooking school, of course, they had several ice machines.

When I want to cool something as quickly as I can and don't have a lot of ice, I fill my sink with cold water and put as much ice as I have in it. Then I put the hot pan in until it cools. If necesarry, I change the water.
posted by faceonmars at 8:33 PM on October 23, 2005


stet: Well obviously, here's the excuse you need to have a cooler full of ice + beer around at all times ;)

advil: define serious.. I've certainly had food poisoning, and wished that I would die, but only once. And funnily enough, it was from take-away food.....
posted by coriolisdave at 8:45 PM on October 23, 2005


In the event that I ever run out of ice-cold beer, I'll be certain to follow faceonmars' excellent (and obvious on reflection) sink trick. The pesky question of how long to leave the soup on the stove before putting it in the fridge has now been answered.
posted by stet at 8:52 PM on October 23, 2005


Clean the coils, replace the magnetic door seals. If that doesn't help, you might try getting a small 12V DC fan that you could place inside to improve the airflow. I guess you'd have to find some way for the cord to exit the fridge without compromising the seal.

The idea here is that the food items far away from the vent where the cold air enters at the top are not getting cold because there just isn't enough air circulation to move the air there before it warms up. I don't know if this is a valid theory or not, but certainly a lot cheaper than a new fridge.

Alternatively, you might try checking if the fridge's built-in circulation fan is not turning fast enough or has a problem with its motor or blades.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:19 PM on October 23, 2005


FWIW, water has more heat capacity than alcohol, so putting a couple gallons of water in would keep the fridge cool longer.

That said, keeping it cool longer may not eliminate the cold and warm spots. There's one place at the middle rear of the top shelf in ours that will make ice. We can't put the milk there.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:47 AM on October 24, 2005


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