The older generations told us that putting hot food in the fridge before cooling it down will make it spoil. While that theory remains unproven, there are reasons why you might want to cool your food down before putting it in the refrigerator. Here’s what really happens when you put hot food in your fridge.
Putting your hot food in the fridge before it’s cooled down does not spoil the food. If you’re trying to cool down your food so it doesn’t stay in the bacteria-growing danger zone temperature (40-140 degrees Fahrenheit), your fridge is actually a great candidate to get the job done!
However, if you’re putting a large amount of hot food in your fridge at once (like your entire slow cooked dish, a full casserole, or a pot of hot soup), this food can increase the temperature in your refrigerator and put all the other foods at risk by raising the temperature above 40 degrees. In this case, it’s best to let the dish cool before putting it in the fridge.
In addition to cooling down food for safety reasons, you might opt to hold off on the fridge for texture and quality reasons. And by that, I mostly mean delicious crunchy toppings. When hot food is cooling down, it’s releasing its heat into its immediate environment. When you cover that hot food, that released heat results in condensation which gathers on the cover then drops down onto the dish resulting in…not so crispy toppings.
For preservation of the crispiness, it's best to let the casserole cool to room temperature before covering it and putting it in the refrigerator.
Food should not be left in the temperature “danger zone” for more than two hours. This means, you need to cool your cooked food to under 41 degrees within two hours of it being cooked. Here are some helpful tips to speed up the process:
Transfer your large hot foods into smaller and shallower containers so that the food can cool faster.
Place your food in storage containers and immerse the containers in an ice bath (sparing the top).
Your cooking surface or cooking vessel can hold in heat and make it take longer to cool down your food (here’s looking at you, cast iron!). To cool down your food faster, remove it from the stovetop, take it out of the oven (and don’t place it on top of the warm oven), or transfer it out of the hot cooking pot.
Sensational Instant Pot Ragu? Divide it up to cool, and pack it in the fridge. Hot leftovers from your #treatyourself meal? Fridge, right away. Green bean casserole with crispy onion straws on top? Let it cool uncovered, then put it in the fridge.
Feel free to refer back to this article when you need to double check, and happy eating!