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Jul 11, 2012 05:03 PM

Safe to put hot food in refrigerator? [Moved from Home Cooking]

Is it safe to put hot/warm food (i.e. chicken) in the refrigerator or should it be cooled first?


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  1. How hot is hot? Warm food, no problem. I think it's been proven with today's modern refrigeration, the temperature does not rise significantly and the recovery time back into the safe zone is quick.

    I think you would be fine with meats, but not so much with things like soup, stew or sauces.

    1. Depends on how big the food is, how hot it is, and how small/underpowered your refrigerator is.

      I'd venture to say that for most things you'd make as a home cook, you should be fine putting something hot in a normal-sized home fridge.

      You'll start running into problems if your fridge is very overcrowded in the first place or very small/weak, or if you're making a very large quantity of food - putting, say, a 5 gallon stock pot full of hot cream soup in your fridge without cooling it first is asking for trouble. It will take a long time to cool and will also significantly raise the temperature of the fridge, upping the risk for everything else in there.

      6 Replies
      1. re: cowboyardee

        Can a 5 gallon stock pot even fit into a very small fridge.....

        : 0 )

        1. re: cowboyardee

          My trick for cooling down a large pot of chili, gumbo, pasta sauce, etc. is to set the pot into a clean sink (drain closed, of course) and then fill the remaining space in the sink with ice cubes and cold tap water. This will generally take the heat of the pot and the ingredients down rapidly, though it might take two rounds of ice and a little time. I usually then transfer the ingredients of the pot to smaller containers if I can't fit the pot into the refrigerator. I've yet to have this technique cause any detectable spoilage of other foods in the fridge, big pot or not.

          You could use the same trick by putting, say, a leftover piece of hot roast into a Ziploc bag, removing as much air as possible, and floating the bag in ice/water in the clean sink or a bowl. Thence to the fridge, even if the food is still slightly warm.

          1. re: cajunbearmike

            That kind of thing works. Of course, it depends on how big your pot is.

            I catered a friend's wedding a little while back and had to cool a huge stock pot full of butternut squash soup. The sink wasn't an option - wouldn't fit. So I wound up bringing the temp down by:
            A) filling my bathtub with ice water and putting the pot in that. And...
            B) I bought a 20 pack of cheap mineral water bottles, washed and froze them, and used them like huge ice cubes.

            It worked. It was also a huge PITA, like many things about catering that wedding with no on-site kitchen. I know that professional kitchens often use something called an 'ice wand' to help cool soups, stews, and stocks - it's not a whole lot different in theory than my frozen water bottles. Of course they also have much bigger refrigerators/freezers than I do.

          2. It depends on the temperature of the food, the density, and the surface-to-mass ratio.

            A hot piece of toast is no problem, but a warm, unpulled pork butt or large pot of beef stock is a problem.

            1. Fill a resealable plastic bag with ice cubes, seal and lay it directly onto the food to cool it down quickly. I do this even with soups and chili and the bag stays intact. Obviously, I wouldn't use a super-thin plastic bag, but I don't use heavy-duty ones either. I've never had the bag to melt. Well, I should add that the food has at least been off/out of the heat for a minimum of 20-30 minutes before I do this. If, after the ice melts, I want it cooler before putting in the refrigerator, I will repeat with more ice.

              1. I have NEVER put hot food into the refrigerator. Not even a small amount. My fridge is usually quite full and I do not want adjacent food to get warm while the hot food cools. I have learned that if a dish is still a bit warm, don't put it on the shelf below the milk or cream - that rising warm air will shorten the time the dairy takes to spoil.

                Any hot food that is in a container will cool fast if it sits in a pan of cold water, or if a leakproof container of ice is submerged in the food (I keep 2 sizes of Rubbermaid containers filled with water in the freezer). Something like a roast can be cooled by placing it in front of a running electric fan.

                2 Replies
                1. re: greygarious

                  We have an older (and like greygarious's, usually crowded) fridge and no a/c at home, so we are careful about what we place in there, and where. Warm foods, yes. Hot foods, no, and particularly not in the summertime.

                  1. re: pinehurst

                    Put pots of hot stuff in a sink full of ice water. Put a small ice pack in a plastic bag and insert into cavity of chicken to cool quickly. I never put hot or very warm food in the fridge.