How long should soup cool before refrigerating?

Prior to storage of food items that are primarily made up of liquid such as soups and sauces, it’s always advisable to cool them for a limited amount of time before apportioning them into containers and storing inside the refrigerator.

This is necessary to prevent soup poisoning due to pathogenic bacteria and also prevent the soup from heating up the entire space of the fridge which inherently increases the risk of spoilage for perishable commodities that are already inside the fridge.

So now the million dollar question: How long should soup cool before refrigerating?

Soups should cool for no more than 2 hours after bringing them down from the heat. This is to prevent contamination by pathogenic bacteria which can cause soup poisoning and also the heating of the refrigerator cabinet which can cause perishable commodities to spoil faster.  

When it comes to the range of temperatures for keeping food items safe, they are typically of two class.

  1. Upwards of 140F
  2. Downwards of 40F.

It wouldn’t take a magician to figure out that foods can’t be kept upwards of 140F consistently, for days or months on end without overcooking and eventually burning them. But foods can be kept consistently at 40F or below for storage: and that’s in the refrigerator or freezer.

In the middle of the rage is the danger zone: temperatures between 40F to 140F at which pathogenic bacteria easily multiply and dominate whatever medium they’re already in.

Because soup is a liquid, it would take nearly more than two hours to actually take it from its piping hot state 140 F to the safe zone of 40F or below on the counter, especially when it’s in bulk quantity.

Now because the soup could stay in the danger zone for long, the chances of having bacteria reproduce in the excess is very large, thus soups are not advised to be cooled for more than two hours on the counter.

They should first of all be cooled from 140 to 70 F within 2 hours (on the counter), and then from 70 to 40F within 4 hours (in the refrigerator).

Below, you’ll learn the techniques of cooling soups faster on the counter and how to properly refrigerate them.

Does soup need to be refrigerated?

Just as with any other perishable commodity out there, refrigerating your recently made broccoli cheese soup or chicken and rice soup is a must, according to many health authorities including the United States Department of Agriculture.

Food items left to cool on the counter or overnight, can breed pathogenic bacteria which can cause food poisoning when consumed.

These bacteria are, classified as pathogenic bacteria and they themselves and their activities are invisible to the naked eyes unlike spoilage bacteria.

Pathogenic bacteria are mostly active at temperatures between 40 F and 140 F also known as the danger zone, and the funny thing is that the persistent ones require roughly 2 hours or even less to awaken from whatever coma you’ve put them through during cooking and begin activities like crazy.

An 8 inch pot filled nearly to the brim with recently cooked soup is literally going to take a minimum of one and half hour to completely cool without extra efforts to cool it faster, and you can now see where the danger is right? The pot of soup will stay for long in the danger zone and eventually become a breeding ground for pathogenic bacteria in the air and those that managed to survive heating!

Why can’t i just put the soup in the fridge?

There are various reasons why you should put a piping hot food directly inside the refrigerator to cool. Let’s take a closer look at each them.

First, a hot food placed inside a refrigerator can raise the cabinet temperature by a couple of degrees especially when it’s a liquid based food like soup that normally takes longer to cool.

The Good Housekeeping Institute found the raise to be in excess of 17 degrees in an experiment they conducted by placing a thick pot of hot soup on the bottom shelve of a fridge.

This rise in cabinet temperature can result in the following consequences:

1) Extra energy consumption:

This should be caused by the refrigerator doing extra work to get rid of the surplus heat.

The amount of extra energy consumption in discussion here would of course depend on the type of fridge in question: whether old or modern, high quality or low, and whether standard or mini.

Modern fridges that are high quality typically perform a good job at removing the excess amount of heat in the fridge, and thus very little energy is consumed or reflected in the overall bill.

For older fridges, the same cannot be said, likewise for low quality fridge and mini fridges that are built inefficient with regards to cooling cabinet and retaining its cold in the first place.

2) Overworking the fridge

With extra energy consumption comes overworking the fridge. A hot food placed inside the fridge will cause it’s components like compressor to work extra hard to get rid of the heat.

This isn’t a big deal when such practice is infrequent, but frequent? There’ll be extra work on the refrigerator’s compressor which can cause it to break down before the stipulated lifespan.

And just so you know, this extra work on the compressor can only get worse during summer which brings its own heat burden to the table.

3) Cause nearby perishable food items to spoil faster

Yes, you heard that right! It can cause perishable commodities already in the fridge to spoil faster. How? Because a really hot soup must be cooled in the fridge without the lid on, and if that’s the case, then lots and lots of heat transfer will occur which will make the items in the fridge a bit warmer.

That’s bad for items like milk, meat and veggies because the spoilage bacteria already in them (remember we mentioned them earlier) will be excited even more which will cause a surge in their activities. Thus spoilage!

The experiment conducted by Good Housekeeping found that placing a large batch of soup on the bottom shelf of a fridge did actually cause a rise in the cabinet temperatures by up to 17 degrees which increased the temperature of ground beef and milk (perishables) that were stored nearby to above 40 F which is the minimum safe temperature recommended for their storage. And this increase persisted for hours in the fridge which was a high quality one.

If there’s anything the experiment spells out, it’s that putting a hot food inside a refrigerator could do more harm than good on both the short and long run!

It can also do harm to the soup itself. GHK found that in some cases, the large batch of soup placed at the bottom of the fridge took nearly 19 hours to completely cool to safe temperatures.

19 hours is 10 folds the accepted threshold for cooling soups. This long stretch indicates a longer time in the danger zone which means greater possibility of harboring pathogenic bacteria that can cause food borne illness.

How to cool soups faster for refrigeration

  1. Turn the temperature setting of the fridge to the lowest. This will cause a much lower temperature rise since the internal temperature is much colder to begin with.
  2. Divide the soup into smaller portions: This will make the soup cool much faster in the fridge and also when you’re using the ice bath method (see 3). For best results, use shallow plastic containers no deeper than 3 inches.
  3. Use an ice batch to accelerate the cooling process: Dip the bottom of the containers into an ice bath and stir the middle of the soup constantly to radiate heat and cause a faster cooling effect. When the temperature is at or below 70 F, you can put it inside the refrigerator to cool further.
  4. Make adjustment to the recipe: I know this wouldn’t be a majority’s favorite, but i’ll still say it regardless. When next you’re making a soup, you can prepare a thicker version of the soup by cutting the amount of water called for in the original recipe. Take note of this amount and turn it into ice in the fridge. Add the ice into the soup at the final stages of preparation and you should have a soup that isn’t piping hot in the end. Observe the previously outlined steps and the soup should cool much faster.
  5. Use a cooling paddle to stir the soup when it’s a large batch. The cold coming out from the paddle will make the soup cool much faster. Do this with the soup in the pot first, then divide into portions and refrigerate.
  6. While refrigerating, ensure to leave the lid of the soup container open during refrigeration until the soup temperature reaches 40F. Then cover and let it continue cooling.
  7. When placing soup in the fridge, make sure it’s placed at the top shelve and not the bottom shelve, to prevent heat being dissipated to perishable items that are located higher than the soup which will cause their temperature to rise and make them breeding grounds for spoilage and pathogenic bacteria.

Be careful about storing hot soup in a mini fridge

Mini fridges might not be the best options to consider when storing fresh soups, so be wary of them. The mid-range or low quality ones usually have a naturally unstable cabinet temperature to begin with (always tending towards the higher end), and this is always worsened when you open the door of the fridge. What else can worsen this even more? A piping hot food placed inside the refrigerator.

So either make sure your mini-fridge is able to keep consistent temperature within the cabinet, or avoid storing any perishable food item in there. And when storing, make sure the soup is apportioned into small batches and cooled as mentioned above before storing. And also be careful how you open the doors!

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should a casserole cool before refrigerating?

A casserole should be cooled for 30 minutes on the counter before refrigerating. For efficient cooling, the casserole should be stirred constantly in the middle, and the bottom of the dish (if not glass) should be dipped in ice water bath to enhance cooling. Alternatively, the casserole can be portioned into shallow containers and then dipped into ice batch while constantly stirring make cooling faster.

How long should stew cool before refrigerating?

Stew should be cooled for a maximum of 30 minutes first before refrigerating.

How long to let bone broth cool before refrigerating?

Bone broth should be cooled for a maximum of 50 minutes before putting inside the fridge.

How long to let beef stew cool before refrigerating?

Refrigerate beef stew for 50 minute before cooling in the refrigerator.

Can I leave hot soup out overnight to cool?

No you cannot leave hot soup to cool overnight. That will cause pathogenic bacteria to breed which will cause food poisoning.

Final verdict

Soups are recommended to be cooled in less than 2 hours on the counter before putting them inside the fridge. Ideally, they should be cooled from their piping hot temperature of 165 F or so to 70 F in less than 2 hours, then they should be cooled from 70 to 40 F or even less, in less than 4 hours to avoid bacterial contamination which can cause food poisoning. A combination of counter cooling techniques and the refrigeration can be used to achieve that.