A New Meaning to Stop Cold

Time to add something else to the “don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone” list: the refrigerator.

Recently, after a wonderful weekend in Asheville, I came back to a fridge on the fritz. It seems that someone left the freezer door open Friday afternoon and it went unchecked (and un-closed) over 48 hours.

After salvaging what we could and tossing the rest, I opened the refrigerator and – WHOOSH – was hit with the unmistakable odor of sour food. The open door allowed excess moisture into the freezer, formed ice around the freezer coils and kept air from circulating into the fridge. Who knew?

I went through another round of sorting, salvaging and scrapping, and then made a quick trip to Google to find out what to do from there.

The first recommendation was to unplug, empty and thaw the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. If it didn’t blow a compressor from overworking itself, it would work after 24 hours. If it didn’t, it was time to call for repairs.

I emptied what was left, unplugged the fridge and said a little prayer. I used the time to take out all of the shelves and drawers and give the entire fridge one heck of a cleaning. And because patience isn’t one of my virtues, I checked in after 12 hours; thankfully, everything was fine. Two hours and $150 later, I shopped, restocked and as good as new. That being said, I learned a lot about refrigerators, and I thought you may be interested:

  • If your fridge goes out, use a food thermometer to check the temperature on the inside of your food. If it’s below 41°F, it’s safe to eat. If not, it could still be OK, as long as it’s only been above 41°F for less than 2 hours. If you don’t know for sure, the best idea is to shed a wasteful tear and toss it.
  • Thawed or partially thawed food in the freezer may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 °F or below. Partial thawing and refreezing may affect the quality of some food, but the food will be safe to eat.
  • If you lose power, the refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours if the door is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours if the door remains closed.
  • In a working unit, the freezer should be between zero and five °F; the refrigerator between 37 and 40 °F.
  • While it might feel like just another chore to add to your to-do list, it’s well worth the few minutes it takes to clean the refrigerator coils. A lot of dust clings to the coils, found either behind or underneath the fridge, which can hinder its ability to run efficiently. Vacuum the coils once a month to avoid any need for repair.
  • Because cold items contribute to the cool temperature of the fridge, an empty fridge costs more to operate than a full one. If your fridge is close to empty, you may want to make a trip to the store.
  • If your fridge is jam-packed, to the point where items are stacked on top of each other, it’s harder to keep things cool. With too many items on the shelves, the refrigerator air has a harder time circulating, which cuts down on its efficiency.
  • One of the first parts of the fridge to go? The door seals. Overtime, the rubber becomes dry and cracked, allowing the cold air to escape. Check your seals by using the paper test. Close the door on a piece of paper that’s half in and half out of the fridge. If you can easily slip the paper out, the seals probably need to be replaced.

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