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Jun 12, 2006 12:47 PM

Do you have to wait til food cools completely before refrigerating?

  • t

Had dinner at a friend's house last night. When it was time to put the leftovers in the fridge, I was stopped. They told me that if you refrigerate food that's still a little bit hot, it will spoil more easily.


Is this true? I asked why and didn't get an answer, other than it'll spoil faster.

Is there something with the moisture collecting as it cools rapidly -- thus making it more prone to spoiling? Or is there some other secret reason my mother never taught me about refrigerating food!

I always figured that if food was lukewarm, it would be fine to put it in the fridge -- and that would be a far better alternative to it sitting out for an hour or two at room temperature.

(This was a regarding a pot of homemade beans, specifically -- but also rice and bbq'd meats)


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  1. The myth is not true except for baked goods and similar desserts or where the recipe specifically instructs.

    So, your instinct is more correct. In fact, for certain things (like rice), it's very important that they not be left out too long (read up on bacillus cereus to learn more about how rice can lead to food poisoning that way...though most folks tend to wrongly attribute their food poisoning to other things.)

    It is true that one tries to cool things like soups down somewhat, partly uncovered, before refrigerating. The rapid condensation of very hot vapors that would be caused by cooling covered and then in the frig tends to produce off flavors (often referred to as "sour" but not necessarily correctly).

    1. That information your friend has is completely incorrect. Putting hot food in the fridge right away is the safest. Every minute the food sits cooling is more time for spoilage and contamination to occur. You want the moisture to stay in the food so keep it covered.

      With old fashioned refridgerators it overtaxed them to put hot foods in the fridge. With todays fridges you can put hot foods in with no worries.

      Here's info from USDA site
      Should a large pot of soup sit on the range until it cools, or should it be refrigerated hot?
      Hot food can be placed directly in the refrigerator or it can be rapidly chilled in an ice or cold water bath before refrigerating. Cover foods to retain moisture and prevent them from picking up odors from other foods.

      A large pot of food like soup or stew should be divided into small portions and put in shallow containers before being refrigerated. A large cut of meat or whole poultry should be divided into smaller pieces and wrapped separately or placed in shallow containers before refrigerating.
      (Source: Refrigeration and Food Safety)

      Here's a quote from

      Holding Out on Hot Stuff

      * Old Habit: When preparing a cooked dish that needs to chill (for storage or serving purposes), nearly four out of five home cooks think it’s necessary to wait until foods cool before putting them in the refrigerator.
      * New Tradition: Once upon a time, placing hot foods in the refrigerator could lower the overall temperature of the fridge and cause foods to spoil. Not anymore! To ensure the freshness and safety of your freshly cooked foods, place them promptly in the refrigerator after cooking…no need to wait.

      1 Reply
      1. re: biltong

        Well, here in Montréal, it is only 7° right now (Celsius). I checked: that is 44.6°F. I made a stew this morning (I work most often at home, and can often have something cooking at low heat in the kitchen if I'm not in a rush), and as soon as the Pyrex storage dish I put it in had cooled down enough, I simply put it outdoors.

        I hate our chilly and cold season, but I guess that is one small benefit. In the summer I do the cool water bath. My fridge is a recent model, but it is small (10ft2), so I do fear overtaxing it.

        1. whats "a little bit hot"? kinda a loaded question. As long as the product is out of "the danger zone" it's fine to let cool-until it gets there.

          No way i'd be sticking 5 gals of beans in its pot straight from the stove into your average home cooler. You'd be surprised what hot foods can do to temps in a walkin-let alone your home reefer-ain't an old wives tale. Cool ship it and then reefer it okay.

          As always heat quickly, cool quickly should be your guide.

          ETA: just saw "lukewarm" chill it down.

          1. As suggested below, unless you have a blaster fridge like restaurants, the best way to handle leftovers is to put them into a large shallow container (preferable metal or something else that conducts heat/cold well) and put that container in cold/ice water to cool as quickly as possible, and then into the fridge. If you put a deep pot of stew in the fridge or leave it out to cool off, it could take hours before the center is cooled out of the danger zone. Even restaurants with blaster fridges will transfer leftovers to swallow trays to cool quickly.

            1 Reply
            1. re: mdibiaso
              babette feasts

              yes, the rule - at least of the public health department governing Seattle - is either ice bath with frequent stirring or 4" deep metal pans uncovered in refrigerator for thin soups, 2" deep for thick stews, refried beans, etc. Cool to 40 degrees w/in 4 hours, cover after cooling.