In ‘A cool investment’, I wrote about how important it is to buy an energy efficient fridge, since fridges can be responsible for up to 20 percent of a household’s power bill. However, an energy efficient fridge can only deliver so much if it’s left neglected in the corner.
To get the most out of your fridge
- keep it insulated,
A fridge is essentially a well-insulated pantry. Its weakest link is the door. Whenever the door is opened, cool air leaks out while moist, warm air creeps in and the fridge has to work harder to maintain the right environment. Only open the fridge door when you know what you want, and close it again as soon as you’re done. Keep your fridge contents organised so that you don’t have to play five-minute hide and seek whenever you want <insert tasty item here>.
A closed fridge door will still leak if its seal isn’t intact. Check the seal by closing the door on a currency bill or a shopping docket. If the door stays shut, then the seal works; if it doesn’t, the seal is faulty and needs to be replaced. Extend a fridge seal’s life by keeping it clean. A wipe down with a rag and some warm, soapy water should do the trick.
- give it some room,
Fridges produce heat. Allow some space between a fridge and the walls or kitchen cabinetry (at least 5-10cm) so that the heat can dissipate. Otherwise you may be ‘add[ing] up to 15 percent to energy use’ (via Origin Energy’s ‘Energy Efficiency Fact Sheet: Refrigeration’).
- keep it two-thirds full,
If the fridge is too full, cool air will not be able to reach or circulate around each food item. To avoid this, buy smaller amounts of perishables more frequently. Also do as I say (not what I do) by throwing out food that’s gone off or way past its use-by date. Oops.
A half empty fridge will also run less efficiently. As per Origin Energy, ‘[t]he more air space in a refrigerator, the more power it may use to keep that air space cool, and the more cold air can spill out when you open the door if the refrigerator is close to empty.’ So if the fridge shelves are looking a tad anorexic, bulk them out with some bottles of water.
- store food correctly, in the right zones,
For instance, meat should be taken out of its plastic film and be kept on a rack in an airtight container. Vegetables are usually best stored in a paper-bag-lined plastic bag so that they don’t sweat or dry out. Soups, sauces, and stews should be covered so that the compressor doesn’t need to deal with the extra moisture. Raw food (especially meat and seafood) should be kept on the lower shelves so that cooked food isn’t contaminated.
The coolest parts of the fridge are the bottom shelves and or directly under the vents; the warmest part is the door. Keep perishables (meat, seafood, dairy and eggs) in the coolest parts, whilst preservative-laden foods (i.e. Twinkies*) can stay in the fridge door shelves.
For more information on how to store food correctly in the fridge (including ‘use-by’ dates), check out CSIRO’s ‘Refrigerated storage of perishable foods’ or the Food Safety Information Council’s ‘Knowing Your Fridge’.
- and use some commonsense.
Don’t put hot food into the fridge straight away. Give it a chance to cool down first so that it doesn’t steam everything up or raise the temperature too much. Just remember not to leave cooked food on the bench for longer than an hour as this increases the risk of breeding nasties.
Also store defrosting food in the fridge and not in kitchen sink**. Not only will this prevent the food from spoiling, it will reduce your fridge’s workload.
Check the temperature of your fridge with a thermometer if your food keeps on spoiling or freezing. Fridges should be ideally set at 4 degrees Celcius. Any lower, and it’s a waste of energy. Any higher and there’s an increased risk of food going bad.
*Then again, Twinkies do go off eventually, in spite of the preservatives:
**Leaving meat in the sink was the rather memorable and totally unhygienic practice of one particular ex-housemate who shall not (ahem) be named.