Chill Out

Dear Home Ec 101,

While my parents were visiting over the Christmas holiday, I made a pot roast for us all to share. We had lots of leftovers and my mother emptied them from the hot crock pot into a tupperware container and left it sitting on the kitchen counter. I saw it sitting there, popped the lid on and put it in the fridge and my mother freaked. She said you can’t put hot foods in a cold refrigerator. Is that true?
Why not?


~Just Chillin’
girlHeather says:

The truth of the matter is that hot foods should be refrigerated as soon as possible. If there is a large quantity then it needs to be divided into two , preferably shallow containers. For example, my favorite way to freeze soups is to pour them into gallon freezer bags, press out the air, and close tightly. I then lie them flat to freeze. This method ensures as much surface area is exposed to the cold as possible, allowing rapid cooling.

Foods that cool too slowly will spend a long time in the “danger zone” for bacterial growth.

Remember to not have your fridge so crammed that air cannot circulate. Air must be able to move freely to be sure all parts of the refrigerator are properly cooled.

Try not to do the “I was right” happy dance in front of your mother. She may consider it rude.

Edit –

There are plenty of commenters countering this advice.

I am passing along information drilled into my head from countless health inspectors learned over ten years in the restaurant industry. Hot food should be refrigerated promptly.


From the FDA

From the USDA

Finally here’s good ole Heloise

As noted the food should be placed in shallow containers to increase the surface area.

Submit your question by sending an email to helpme@home-ec101.comĀ 


  1. Ha - I'm Right And Have Proof! | Cara's Coffee Break on January 15, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    […] Heather at HomeEc101 has a fantastic post proving me correct, with proof from the USDA and FDA. Foods that cool too […]

  2. Reef tank addict on January 6, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    LOL, had this conversation with my mom over Christmas too. But our convo was about not even putting it in the fridge.

    However, she said that if you heat up a soup with a lid on and then don’t take the lid off, you don’t have to put it in the frig. It will stay good overnight.

    I thought about this and I’m thinking the heat expands the air in the pot, when it cools it forms a small vaccuum seal on the lid.

    What do you think? She’s been doing this her whole life.

  3. jibbs ribbs on January 5, 2008 at 2:27 am

    Sevens Nines, they say the way is my time, and to cook with cold can sliver me timbers

  4. SAHMmy Says on January 4, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    I worked for (far too many) years in the restaurant industry where the 40-145 degrees Danger Zone gets drilled into your head constantly. Just get your food cooled below 40 or heated above 145 as quickly as possible…most of us are not preparing volatile dishes like sashimi on a regular basis. I’d be more concerned with bringing the temperature of the entire fridge up by putting a steaming pot of chowder directly in there than letting it hang out on the counter for an hour or so to cool. And after living to tell about the dubious food prep and storage methods of my inlaws I’d say that most food prep guidelines offer worst case scenario scare tactics.

  5. The Chatty Housewife on January 3, 2008 at 4:54 am

    Hot food put directly into the fridge is only a bad idea if you are worried about other products around it spoiling. For example, don’t put it beside dairy or eggs.

  6. Tami on January 2, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    I read somewhere that the whole don’t put hot food in the fridge thing started back when refrigerators were cooled by actual ice. If one were to put hot food in there, it could melt the ice. Obviously not a good thing. However, in modern fridges, this is not an issue.

  7. Margaret on January 2, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    I DO agree with Heather, but I have to say: I was raised by a frugal family and my dad works in the refrigeration/air conditioning industry. His rationale for allowing the leftovers to cool on the counter was that it saved energy because the fridge didn’t have to work harder to cool it down. Sometimes I do that and sometimes I refrigerate immediately. ha.
    I am MUCH pickier about how long the leftovers hang out in the fridge (it especially came to my attention in college when I ate a tomato sauce that “smelled fine” and gave me a horrible stomache ache). I’d be curious to read a post on this, particularly from the restaurant business side of things. I remember having to date containers when I worked briefly in a restaurant kitchen.

  8. Jasi on January 2, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Oh and he’s even said that the FDA refrigeration standards are the only true government conspiracy. LOL

  9. Jasi on January 2, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    DH and I disagree on this too. His mom would fry up some eggs with turnip and Chinese sausage for breakfast. There it would sit, middle of the dining room table until every last bit was eaten. Snacks! They also buy eggs in bulk and keep em in the den. Not 40* or below. But DH swears, “No one has ever gotten sick.”

    I’m a germ freak. She’s a great cook and healthy as an ox, but I’m all about immediate refrigeration. DH thinks I’m so weird.

  10. Badbadivy on January 2, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Iā€™m hardly likely to overheat the great outdoors.

    Watch it, Jen, you’re totally contributing to global warming. šŸ˜‰

  11. Jenn @ Frugal Upstate on January 2, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    In the winter I avoid this issue by putting it on my back porch (when the temp is below 32) and letting it cool there and then putting it into the fridge.

    I’m hardly likely to overheat the great outdoors. Just watch out for neighborhood cats. . .

  12. Badbadivy on January 2, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    Sure, putting something directly from the oven into a refrigerator or freezer isn’t a fab idea. I’d be afraid I’d break the glass shelves in my fridge, if it was something directly from the oven. But since the author of the question was talking about food left over from a meal, clearly it wasn’t steaming-oven hot, just still-hot, hot.

    People like Heather and my husband who have lived in fear of the health inspector (having worked in restaurants), makes them extra sensitive to the not-letting-food-cool issue, trust me on this one. šŸ˜‰

  13. Heather on January 2, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    Meredith you raise a good point for freezing lots of food.

    I should have been clearer that I was referring to one bag in a large freezer.

  14. Meredith from Merchant Ships on January 2, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    I believe that MIL is right, if she’s talking about putting the hot steaming pot of roast into a cold fridge.

    Heather’s container dividing idea is a good one.

    I personally love the book Mega Cooking by Jill Bond, and she warns about putting hot Ziploc bags in a freezer for the same reason.

    She suggests that if you have a lot of hot food to freeze, that you do it as quickly as possible by quick-cooling the food in an ice-water bath (the sink, or if you’re mega-cooking, even a bathtub full of ice.)

    THEN let the food get fully cold in the refrigerator. The next day, assemble freezer bags and freeze.

    This puts the least amount of stress on your freezer.

    Not that I’ve ever been organized enough to freeze a BATHTUB full of food, but still! Good to know!

  15. silver on January 2, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    If you put hot food in the fridge, it raises the temperature of the whole fridge, and thus puts *all* of your food in the “danger zone”.

    My googling also found some health inspection reports that mention the fridge temperature being too high from hot food being put into it.

    LG in their owners manuals says to not put hot food in the fridge:

  16. Deborah on January 2, 2008 at 10:47 am

    I think the worry of putting hot food in the fridge or freezer is bringing down the core temperature and affecting the foods already in there. Might not be such an issue for you Americans with big old fridge/freezers, but for those of us in Europe it’s quite a frustrating phenomenon. Maybe her Mom is used to smaller refrigerators like us. I always put leftovers in a covered container and allow to cool a little (to luke warm) before putting away, which seems to work fine. I think the key though is when reheating to get it hot enough to kill any bacteria that may have formed in the meantime.