Last Updated: April 20, 2021

When it comes to food, it’s always safety first and everything comes after, whichever stage you are in it’s handling and processing, for example, purchasing, packaging, preparation and storage.

Speaking of storage, it’s often the refrigerator isn’t it? And we’re mostly used to grabbing mini baskets of room temperature apples and stuffing them into the crisper until they turn bleak, superb for the food salad at noon the next day.

What we’re not used to however, is stuffing container after container of piping hot food, or even those slightly warmer than ambient temperature into the refrigerator and letting it do the magic from there.

If you’re a super busy person, you know it’s certain. You’ll run into that situation when time isn’t by your side and all you ever want is a glimpse of your recently made broccoli cheese soup meditating peacefully within the confinement of the refrigerator — so you can quickly go about your next business.

In this situation, what should you do? Should you refrigerate the food regardless of how scorching it is, or should you wait patiently until it cools down a bit or even completely?

Hot foods are perfectly safe to put in the refrigerator and even in the freezer without any risk of harm, according to a knowledge article published by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Even piping hot food items like soups or vegetable gravy recently brought down from the heat are perfectly safe to put in the refrigerator when packaged correctly and stuffed into the cabinet appropriately.

Why can you put hot food inside the fridge?

It’s simple, because a refrigerator’s primary design goal is to take food items from the surface temperature of the sun to the surface temperature of the moon. Not literally, but you get the idea.

They make things cold by extracting heat from them, so why should putting hot food in the refrigerator, even while it’s fuming crazy with bubbles everywhere, be the cause for alarm. It’s not like we’re coating the interior of the fridge with hot soup or rice anyways.

The food is only hot, and the refrigerator will definitely work to make it cold. It might take longer since the particles of the food are more energized, but eventually, they’ll trade off their energy for serenity, and hopefully, at an insignificant energy cost for your household.

Does putting hot food in the fridge damage the fridge?

Now, the energy efficiency hawks will argue that there’s some energy wastage happening whenever you put hot food directly into the fridge.

They’ll say that it makes the fridge run somewhat less efficiently as the interior will become much hotter and thus will require the compressor to overwork in order to restore it back to the appropriate temperature.

Thus, a burden on the compressor and a consumption of extra amount of energy which can easily be overlooked at infrequent storage periods but could easily pile up to significant amounts during frequent storage of this sort.

That, i want to counter with the fact that modern refrigerators are built to be highly efficient at doing what they do best, and that’s cooling. They’re unlike previous generation fridges that aren’t built highly efficient to begin with. So they may take forever to cool a single container of hot food.

But let’s say it does happen, that there can be a burden on the compress whenever a hot food is placed in it, since a brief period of overworking the compressor is still a burden regardless.

Still, there are several methods that exist that can be employed to minimize greatly, the level of heat and moisture transfer from the food to the interior, so the compressor doesn’t have to work like mad. These include:

  1. Refrigerating only small portions of hot food at any given time.
  2. Packaging food items into small shallow containers, sealing them properly to avoid heat and moisture escape and then spacing them appropriately in the refrigerator to allow adequate air circulation.

The above two methods when applied consistently, will work to limit the heat transfer from the food to the fridge by a great degree and your compressor at the back will definitely be grateful.

Additionally, when the practice of storing food items in their hot state is only observed infrequently, then there’s really no need to worry much about inefficiency since you’re only overworking the compressor (if at all you’re doing so), for only infrequent periods of time.

All gadgets and electronics will definitely, at one point in their lifetime, be subjected to heavy cycles of usage and there are often efficiency paddings considered in that regards during their reliability design.

So there’s nothing to really worry about, unless your fridge is old, inefficient to begin with, a mini fridge, or of poor quality, and unless you live in a place where it gets super humid and hot during summer which will automatically impose an external burden on the refrigerator to begin with.

Avoiding this practice, or doing so only infrequently, in this case would be the best option.

Does putting hot food in the refrigerator damage it?

The USDA specified something called the danger zone within which bacteria are able to multiply rapidly in food items and present their health effects.

These zones are identified to be all the temperatures between the ranges of 40 to 140 F.

In other words, all the temperatures that your food items normally sit at when they aren’t either boiling furiously on the kitchen stovetop or cooling wickedly within the confinement of a refrigerator.

This range mostly present problems for inefficient or malfunctioning fridges, mid-range mini fridges or overall, poor quality fridges since their inner temperatures aren’t that stable to begin with and can therefore quickly rise with the immediate placement of hot foods in them.

And because they aren’t of good quality, they can take nearly forever to return back to optimal temperature. This in turn means that food items could be held for longer in the danger zone which can make them unsafe to eat.

It also means that the hot food placed in there can indirectly cause other perishable items within the fridge to spoil faster too, because of the overall rise in temperature of the fridge.

So when you have an inefficient or no so good quality fridge, it’s best to simply avoid storing perishable food items whether hot or cold in it, and when you have a mini fridge, it’s best to completely cool down the food first using the method outlined below, and then proceed to store in the refrigerator at below 40 F or in the freezer at below freezing.

While high quality mini fridges work pretty much like your standard refrigerator, most mini fridges at peoples disposal aren’t going to be of high quality, and these are famous for their unreliable cabinet temperatures.

How to properly store hot food in the fridge

To do so is pretty simple. Follow the tips and steps below.

  1. Portion the hot food into shallow plastic containers. If you don’t have any plastic containers at your disposal, just find a way to break down the large portion of food into smaller portion of food. These cool faster in the fridge there by reducing the risk of being held at the danger zone for long in poor quality fridges, or heating up the four corners of the fridge to higher temperatures which will then cause the compressor to do some extra work at the cost of some energy.
  2. Lid the containers tightly, then place them or the portioned food items into the refrigerator while making sure to provide adequate spacing for air to properly circulate. This is essential for faster cooling of the food.
  3. Do not overload the refrigerator with too much hot food. It may cause a rise in temperature of the fridge which a poor quality or malfunctioning fridge cannot reduce instantly.
  4. Avoid opening the fridge unnecessarily during this period. It slows down the cooling progress of the fridge significantly.
  5. Avoid storing food in poor quality fridges, i.e those with huge temperature fluctuations or those with leaky seals and gaskets.

How to cool down food to put in the fridge

If for some reason, you’re still not buying the “it’s safe to place hot food in the refrigerator thing”, you can always chill it (rapidly) outside the refrigerator using a cold water bath, and then transfer the warm or cold food into the fridge for storage.

To cool hot foods using the hot water bath method, follow the procedures and tips below.

  1. Fill up the kitchen skin with clean cold water. You can pop some ice in there to make it turn cold faster. Alternatively, you can use a large bowl with curved edges.
  2. Divide the food item if many, into shallow containers and then place the bottom of the container under the cold water bath while stirring the inside of the food consistently to hasten the cooling process. Make sure no water gets into the food during this procedure.
  3. When cooling the hot food, ensure that it isn’t left to sit outside for more than 2 hours. The food temperature can drop to the danger zone and then breed bacteria easily.

Frequently asked questions

Can you put hot chicken in the fridge?

Yes, hot chicken is perfectly safe to put in the fridge without any concern for health effects. To refrigerate hot chicken, simply portion the chicken into parts and stuff into shallow containers, and then place in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can place the bottom of the shallow container inside a cold water bath to hasten the cooling process of the chicken, then, place the warm chicken inside the refrigerator.

Can you put hot or warm turkey in the fridge?

Just like hot chicken, hot or warm turkey too is perfectly safe to refrigerate or freeze according to the USDA. For servings as large as a whole turkey, you want to break it down into smaller portions so the turkey can cool down evenly inside the refrigerator to avoid some areas (those deep in the turkey) from being held too long in the danger zone which can permit the growth of bacteria.

The method for storage of turkey in the refrigerator is still the same as that for chicken outlined above.

Can you put hot rice in the fridge?

Rice recently brought down from the heat is perfectly safe to put in the fridge both in the refrigerator and in the freezer. Storing it like this does nothing to its nutritional content and neither does it increase the risk of infection, rather, it reduces the risks of infection due to the rapid cooling of the food which prevents it from staying too long at the danger zone which can cause bacteria to multiply quickly and present their health effects.

Final verdict

As stated above, hot food is completely safe to put in the fridge both in the refrigerator and in the freezer for storage.

This method, which cuts down on the extra step of cooling the food outside helps to lower the risks of bacterial growth which can present negative health effects to people.

It is able to do this because it helps the food item to pass the danger zone for bacterial growth (40 to 140 F) rapidly without staying too long in there, which would otherwise have the consequences of fast breeding of the organisms that would cause diseases.

While putting hot foods in the fridge is deemed as safe by many respectable health authorities around the world, for example the USDA, it is not for every fridge.

Mid-range mini fridges usually have a hard time maintaining consistent cabinet temperature, and a hot food in there would only worsen the matter!