Not sure if my (recently repaired) refrigerator is working at all times.
February 4, 2017 2:36 AM   Subscribe

What can we do, as a community, to take our minds off current events? How about a food safety question? Everybody loves those.

Two weeks ago, my refrigerator -- an unremarkable apartment fridge/freezer -- became much louder in its active state. The sound implied a stressed motor, and a few days later I woke up to a completely silent fridge and orange juice that was getting warm. Normally a control panel inside showed the temperature setting with a lit indicator from 1-5. Those indicators were dead. The only thing working was the main light bulb.

We hustled our perishables into a neighbour's fridge, and when repairs got delayed we borrowed a mini-fridge from them. A repairman eventually came by, got the fridge running, and said there had been an issue with the control panel. He had ordered a necessary replacement part, but the fridge would run in the meantime. He cautioned us not to use the fridge for potentially hazardous foods like meats or dairy. I assume this is a standard rule the company follows to avoid liability for

Since then, we've bought minimal groceries and nothing has spoiled. I've kept an ice cube sitting loose on a tray in the freezer -- my logic being, if the ice cube melts and refreezes, we'll know if the fridge has conked out and come back online. For all I can remember, I may have read about doing this on AskMetafilter. Like I say, none of our food has gone bad -- the fridge is reassuringly cold every time we open it. We can't keep doing small grocery runs! We need to keep some perishables cool soon. But my ice cube indicator has been puzzlingly inconclusive...

Twice now, after three days of the cube sitting undisturbed and unchanged, I've checked on it and found it still frozen solid -- but with a tiny amount of a melted-and-refrozen sort of puddle-patch of ice attached and around it. I don't have a Before photograph I'm afraid, but here is an After:

It's melted just a little bit -- lost a tiny portion of its mass -- and slid from the middle to a corner, which could suggest the appliance is indeed intermittently shutting down and coming back online. But with the freezer shut tight, it seems like this would take a long time, and odds are I'd notice when I open the fridge in the morning or evening. And further complicating things: I've worked with bin-style grocery freezers which occasionally cycled up in temperature to prevent forming of frost and freezer burn of products, I've heard (perhaps apocryphally) of consumer deep freezers doing the same thing, and I'm not sure if the same thing may be an intended feature here!

The indicator light shines as it used to. The motor noise is back to typical pre-breakdown levels, and it hasn't gotten louder at any point since the repair visit.

The ice cube aspect is very hard to Google -- I found only a huge number of questions and answers about ice cubes shrinking in the freezer. I assume those cubes stayed in their trays, so I'm not sure if the answers for that could even apply to this.

I may be either overthinking or overcautious about this. But does it seem like we could get away with keeping a full load of groceries in this thing? We're still able to keep perishables in the mini-fridge if the fridge breaks down completely again, but we don't want to wastefully run two machines at once, especially since our kitchen is cramped, electrical outlets are limited, and power is expensive! Thanks for looking.
posted by EmGeeJay to Home & Garden (5 answers total)
Browser ate part of the sentence in second paragraph -- liability for if someone consumes spoiled food and becomes sick.
posted by EmGeeJay at 2:37 AM on February 4, 2017

One trick with the ice cube would be to place something on top - a small coin, for example. Then, if there is a lot of melting/re-freezing, you'll see the coin sink into the ice cube over a number of days.
posted by pipeski at 2:53 AM on February 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have no idea if these would work inside a freezer, but when I suspected that the radiators in my apartment weren't working, I got one of those thermometers that recorded the high and low temperatures during the day (I would reset it when I got home in the evening).
posted by Ampersand692 at 4:37 AM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've kept an ice cube sitting loose on a tray in the freezer

Your freezer may not be all that representative of the temperature rise in the refrigerator portion. It's better insulated (most likely) and if there's other frozen things in there besides the ice, it'll remain below freezing for some time.

If you're concerned about the fridge, consider picking up a refrigerator thermometer, ideally one that can track temperature over time rather than just giving you a highest and lowest reading with no context as far as how long it hit the high peak.
posted by Candleman at 7:26 AM on February 4, 2017

pipeski's idea is golden.

Another way to stabilize the temperature of the fridge and freezer is add thermal mass. More frozen ice cubes in the freezer, and gallon jugs of water in the fridge. Any instability in the cooling system will be slowed by the heat taken into these non-perishable items. Even if it did die again, you would have 2-3 days of cold from ice and water jugs to keep items cold.
posted by nickggully at 7:44 PM on February 4, 2017

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