What Does ‘Keep Refrigerated’ Really Mean? What Temp?

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Did you leave some groceries out after your last shopping trip? Did some of those groceries say “keep refrigerated” on them? Or, maybe, you’re just curious what it really means, either way, I’ve got the answers.

What does ‘keep refrigerated’ really mean, and what temp should it be kept at?

When storage instructions state ‘keep refrigerated’, it means that the food must be kept in a fridge, at a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature ensures that the food will remain safe to eat until its expiry or best-by date.

Following proper food storage and safety guidelines is so important in the kitchen, so read on to find out more about what ‘keep refrigerated’ means, and other helpful storage tips.

‘Keep Refrigerated’ – But At What Temperature?

If you see the instructions ‘keep refrigerated’ on some food you have bought, then you should follow these instructions.

This means that the food should be placed in the fridge as soon as possible, and left in the fridge until consumed.

However, there is more to this, as it doesn’t just refer to where the food should be stored, but rather the temperature it should be stored at.

‘Keep refrigerated’, means keeping the food item in the fridge, at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

The food should be kept at this constant temperature, to preserve it in its best condition possible, and to prevent it from spoiling too soon.

Most of the time, the food items that require being kept in the fridge are fresh food items that cannot be left to come to room temperature for longer than two hours, without becoming unsafe to eat. It really is important to follow these guidelines.

Do You Need To Follow Food Storage Instructions?

Food packaging guidelines are required by law, and they help consumers make informed decisions about how to store the food they are purchasing.

While these guidelines are a legal requirement, there is no legal requirement to follow them, although it is highly recommended that you do, as these guidelines are there for a reason.

The storage instructions given on specific food items would be the best storage practices possible for that specific food, keeping it in the best condition possible for however long it will stay fresh for, extending the shelf life before it begins to spoil.

For example, if you purchase sliced ham, it will have ‘keep refrigerated’ on the packaging.

Kept in the fridge, the ham will last for a good few days, as indicated by the expiry date.

However, if the ham is kept out at room temperature, it can be unsafe to eat after only a few hours.

Storing food properly according to the storage instructions really goes a long way to ensure food not only stays fresh and at its best quality for longer, but that it is safe to eat!

What Temperature Should I Set My Refrigerator?

Almost all fridges come with an adjustable temperature setting, but it is important to know the right temperature that your fridge should be set at, to ensure the food inside it is kept safe.

A refrigerator should not be set higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything above this puts food at risk of spoiling quicker, and it might not prevent increased bacteria growth.

You also cannot set your fridge at too low a temperature either. Your fridge should not be set colder than 32 degrees Fahrenheit, as this means that the food in your fridge might start freezing.

So, the ideal temperature for a refrigerator is between 32 degrees and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, not higher or lower. This temperature range keeps food cold and safe, without freezing it.

Does It Matter Where You Store Food In The Fridge?

When reading up on food storage advice online, you might notice that some food is recommended to be kept at the back of the fridge, some in the door, and other food items in the crisper drawer, but does it really matter where you store food in the fridge?

The fridge should be at a constant temperature between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but it does actually make a bit of a difference where you store food in the fridge.

Ready-to-eat foods, dairy products such as cheese and yogurt, cooked meats, and last night’s leftovers, should ideally be kept on the middle shelf and the top shelf of the fridge.

Condiments can be placed on the top shelf or in the fridge door.

Raw meat, poultry, and fish should be kept on the bottom shelf so that there is little risk of any liquid dripping down to other food, and so that there is less risk of contamination with the raw meat touching ready-to-eat food.

Vegetables and fruit should be kept in the crisper drawer of the fridge, where they will be kept fresh and crisp for longer, before starting to turn soft and spoil.

It is also a good idea to store food that can handle slight temperature fluctuations, such as condiments, in the door of the fridge, as the temperature here might change slightly if the door to the fridge is opened and closed quite often.

It is also a good idea to use a thermometer to check the temperature of various areas in your fridge, to find out how much of a fluctuation there is, and where the coldest area in your fridge is.

How Long Can Food Be Left Out of The Fridge For?

You might not have noticed the ‘keep refrigerated’ instruction on the food you have brought home from the grocery store and left it out on the counter for some time.

This could make you worried that the food might not be safe to eat anymore, and in some cases, this could be true.

Perishable food items, especially those that call for refrigeration, should not be left out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. This includes meat, cheese, yogurt, milk, and more.

The danger zone temperature range for food items ranges between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In this temperature range, bacteria grow rapidly, so if your food is left out at this temperature for too long, there is a risk of increased bacteria growth.

Food should not be left at this temperature for longer than 2 hours, which means it should not be left on your counter at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.

It might very well be safe to eat after sitting out for 2 hours, but it is really difficult to tell whether there has been an increase in bacteria growth.

How Do You Know If Food Is Spoiled?

If you have not refrigerated food that is supposed to be kept refrigerated, or if you have not placed it in the fridge quickly enough, you might be worried that it has begun to spoil.

Other than looking at the expiration date of the food, there are some signs to look for that indicate that food has gone bad and that it should rather be thrown away to be safe.

These are the signs to be wary of that food has spoiled:


If the food has become discolored, has patches of mold, or if the ingredients have separated, it is a sign that it has spoiled and is no longer safe to eat.

You need to use your judgment for this – food with mold, or food that is discolored, should be thrown away.

Food that has separated ingredients might still be okay to eat, such as yogurt, but if these have curdled or have other signs of spoiling, then it is likely bad.


Most food that has spoiled has a very obvious ‘off’ smell, especially meat and dairy. If you smell the food, and it either smells off, or you have some doubt, then it is safer to throw the food away and not eat it.

The bad odor is due to bacteria growth, and this bacteria growth can easily lead to you becoming ill with a foodborne illness.


Various food items experience a change in texture when they begin to spoil, such as fruit and vegetables. These can become soft and mushy, and this shows that it has turned rotten.

Cooked meats can also change in texture too, becoming slimy or extremely dry on the outside, and this definitely means they should be thrown away.


Hopefully, you will not get to taste food that has spoiled, as you would hopefully have picked up on signs of spoiling first, but if you notice a sour, rancid, or rotten taste, stop eating the food immediately and throw it away.

What Common Foods Need To Be Kept In The Fridge?

Most of us have our own list of foods that we automatically put in the fridge, but there might be one or two food items that you don’t realize need to be kept in the fridge.

Most of these, if not all of these, food items will indicate that they need to be kept in the fridge, but not all of us read the packing instructions for every item of food we buy. Here are some of the common food items that need to be stored in the fridge:

  • Milk and dairy products such as yogurt and cheese.
  • Eggs
  • Poultry, meat, and fish.
  • Leftover cooked meals and food, such as rice, vegetables, and meat.
  • Raw green vegetables such as courgettes and leafy greens.
  • Condiments
  • Salad items such as tomatoes and cucumbers

Various spreads and sauces should also be kept in the fridge. Many of these are fine to leave in the pantry unopened, but once opened, need to be stored in the refrigerator and used within a certain amount of time, which will be indicated on the packaging.

What Does ‘Keep Refrigerated’ Mean?

If you ever see ‘keep refrigerated’ on food packaging, it’s important to keep that food in the refrigerator to ensure it stays fresh and safe to eat for as long as possible.

Now, keeping it in the fridge is all you really need to do, but if you’re curious why, let me expand a bit.

Refrigerators are typically set below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and about 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Many fresh ingredients will spoil much more quickly at temperatures of about 40 degrees.

However, it’s just as important to keep them above 32 degrees so the food doesn’t freeze and lose quality or texture.

So, to summarize, if your food says ‘keep refrigerated’ on it, make sure to store it in the refrigerator whenever you aren’t eating it, and be sure that your fridge is set to a temp between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Related Questions

Can food that says ‘keep refrigerated’ be frozen?

Most food that says ‘keep refrigerated’ should be fine to freeze, and often there will be some indication of whether or not this is safe to do.

It does depend on the food item though. Sauces with dairy, or certain foods containing egg whites, should not be frozen as they do not freeze well.

Is ‘keep refrigerated’ the same thing as ‘refrigerate after opening’?

‘Keep refrigerated’ does not mean the same as ‘refrigerate after opening’. If it says ‘keep refrigerated’, you should put it in the fridge as soon as possible. If it says ‘refrigerate after opening’, you can keep it out of the fridge, and once opened, place it in the fridge.

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