Why You Should Have a Thermometer in Your Refrigerator/Freezer

While I’m tempted to buy lots of kitchen gadgets (a male disease, I think), I know that to do so with a kitchen as small as ours is a foolish and costly pastime. One gadget that I picked up recently, however, has proven very useful: a refrigerator/freezer thermometer.

Freezers should be kept at 0ºF (-18ºC). At that temperature most frozen foods will keep for a year. The refrigerator should be below 40ºF (4.5ºC). (Source: Food Safety Advisor)

After picking up an inexpensive thermometer, I discovered that our old fridge/freezer was simply not keeping low enough temperatures. I made the mistake of replacing it with a used fridge, which also did not maintain low enough temperatures. Nor did the loaner fridge, provided to us by the shop that sold us the used fridge, keep low temps. Thankfully we were able to return those units and buy an inexpensive new fridge which works just fine. The moral here was that I should have listened to the advice of a friend of mine who owns a restaurant who told me that you should buy used stoves and new refrigeration. Stoves are easy to fix, but fridges, often times, are harder to keep running.

So why don’t fridges come with a built-in thermometer? How else can you know the temperature?

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  1. Some new fridges have a temperature reading that you can see from the outside without opening the door. Requires power, but it is handy. I can see the temperature in the fridge and the freezer (and actually our stand up freezer has one too). Very useful!

  2. Where would the manufacturers place a thermometer in a freezer or refrigerator where you could be sure of the real temperature in all part of either the freezer or refrigerator?

    I prefer having a thermometer that I can place on the door and then move to the back of the freezer. I also move it near the hinge and to the latch side of the freezer. Same with refrigerator. That way, I can monitor all parts of the appliance.

    An installed thermometer would be sort of like a house thermostat that only monitors one part of the house.

    The house may be warm near the thermostat, but the other parts may be cool or vice versa.

    I also have an oven thermometer so I can monitor that applliance.

    If you have a really inexpensive refrig/freezer like I do, the unit that cools and freezes is on one thermostat. In order to keep the freezer cold enough, I have to endure the back corner of the hinge side and up high in the refrigerator always freezing anything placed there. Sometimes, I stack things up…lol.

    A more costly appliance would solve this problem because there is a thermostat for the refrigerator and one for the freezer. Or, do you have two thermostats in your inexpensive appliance?

    Inexpensive was all I could afford. When I look at the appliance I want, one with double doors on the top and drawers on the bottom freezer part, I realize I will have to win the lottery to ever get it. Or, marry a rich guy. I am thinking the lottery looks like the better bet!

  3. A dear friend ended up in the hospital due to food kept in an aging too warm fridge that her husband insisted was fine. We routinely check even our new fridge. The old and second hand fridge is such a common false economy even among educated and non-poor people. We’ve got a doc next door who is currently playing “fridge roulette” with his family for absolutely no good reason. I have no idea why women go along with this.

  4. Not suitable for the freezer, of course, but putting an instant read thermometer in a glass of water left in the fridge for a few hours is my method.

  5. You’re right. Those little refrigerator thermometers are so inexpensive, there’s really no excuse for not having one. As for a built-in thermometer, I don’t depend on them once the appliance is a few years old, because I’ve noticed that with time their calibration can suffer. My older oven was off by about 50° after a few years and I only found that out when I bought an inexpensive oven thermometer after batches of cookies came out underbaked. I don’t know if the same might happen with a built-in fridge thermometer, but why take a chance?

  6. I always wondered that as well. I mean, they have a dial to turn to make it cooler or warmer as necessary, but what good is said dial when you can’t tell what temp the fridge actually is! I mean, I would think you would simply want a self regulating temperature control inside, with a digital read to show the temperature, so you can see any alarming fluctuations!

  7. I’ve put a glass of water in and gradually turned the temperature down until it started to freeze, then backed it off.

  8. When we switched to a chest fridge conversion and had settable temperature I immediately I had the same reaction as you, Eric. Why don’t all refrigeration devices have settable temperature? I run my chest fridge at 34F and it makes all the difference in the world for food preservation. I noticed when I would let the fridge over over 36F things like berries and raw milk would begin to go bad in days, now they can go for a week or ore.

    • Hey Mikey–good to hear from you. Hope some folks check out those cool temp controllers you make. I’ve got a chest freezer conversion setup in the garage that I use for making beer and other fermentation projects. Works great.

    • Thanks for posting this, Mikey! I’m in the process of building a small house, and was trying to find the best solution for refrigeration for a tiny (<200 sqft) space. I might just have found it.

  9. Pre-installed refrigeration thermometers would most likely be installed on or near the unit’s door (like with commercial refrigeration appliances). The problem with this is that a refrigerator or freezer’s temperature rises the most when the door is open. If you are reading your thermometer shortly after you’ve had the door open browsing for something to eat for about 3 minutes your temperature could be inaccurate. That’s why it’s better to have your own thermometer that you can place anywhere in the unit. This blog is about maintaining commercial refrigeration temperatures but most of the rules apply for residential appliances as well:


  10. I use the relatively inexpensive digital indoor/outdoor thermometers with the remote sensors. The wires are thin enough that the door gasket will close on them just fine. I had a wireless one with two sensors but it quit working.


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