The Ultimate Guide to Freezer Temperatures

Many of us assume that the factory settings of the appliances we use every day, like our freezers, will do just fine. But did you know that there is a lot more to keeping our frozen food delicious than just popping it in the freezer? In fact, you may be keeping your freezer at the wrong temperature without even realizing it!

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about safely and efficiently storing food in your freezer.

What is the Best Temperature For a Freezer?

If you’re someone who relies on your freezer to store a multitude of different items, from meats and vegetables to prepared meals and sweet treats, it’s vital that you understand how to keep your products in good shape. The last thing any of us want is to open our freezer to find that our food has either been frozen too much, or even worse, not enough! The good news is that remembering the ideal, universal temperature for your freezer is very easy. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that freezers are kept between 0°F (or -18°C) or lower. This may seem excessively cold, but universally keeping your freezer at 0°F or lower will ensure that your food stays frozen without any risk of bacterial build-up, because the cold temperature stops dangerous bacteria from growing on your food.

How to Take Your Freezer’s Temperature

Editor’s Picks for Freezer Thermometers

Figuring out what setting your freezer is at is as easy as opening the door to your refrigerator! Most freezer thermometers are displayed inside a conventional refrigerator. This is also where you can adjust the temperature. However, these built-in thermometers are not always accurate, which is why you may find that food freezes in your refrigerator or simply doesn’t stay cold enough in your freezer. 

The best way to guarantee that your freezer is set to the ideal temperature of 0°F is to purchase a freezer thermometer. This way, you’ll be able to tell exactly what temperature your food is being kept at, bypassing any inaccuracies in your freezer’s built-in thermometer system. You can find freezer thermometers on Amazon.


Food Freezing Guidelines

For a complete guide to freezing food, check out the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics food storage chart.

Freezer Storage Picks

Freezer Buying Guide

How To Choose The Right Freezer For You

If you’re someone who needs more freezer space than a traditional freezer built into a conventional refrigerator offers, you should consider upgrading to a stand-alone freezer. Stand-alone freezers are perfect for people who love to plan ahead, either by stocking up on produce, meats, and other products, or by preparing meals in advance.

There are two main types of stand-alone freezers: chest freezers and upright freezers. Let’s break down the pro’s and con’s of each product.

Upright freezers:

If you ever wished that your conventional refrigerator could act as a freezer, upright freezers are the product for you. Like a refrigerator, upright freezers stand vertically, which means they take up far less space. They also come in a variety of sizes – compact, medium, and large – so you can choose one based on the amount of space you have and the volume of food you’ll be freezing. Upright freezers also offer more flexibility in terms of storage, because, like a refrigerator, they have shelves, drawers, and even storage on the inside of the door. However, Consumer Reports found that upright freezers can cause more freezer burn.

Upright freezers cost between $300 and $2,000, depending on their size. 

Chest freezers:

This type of freezer is ideal for those of us who need more horizontal space to store food. Chest freezers are great for larger items that need to be frozen, like large cuts of meat and bigger packaged frozen foods. These freezers are also more energy-efficient than upright freezers, and can keep food frozen for longer in the case of a power outage. While chest freezers don’t have the same built-in storage options as an upright freezer, you can purchase bins like these to help keep your freezer organized without any trouble. One major con to chest freezers is their size, according to Consumer Reports. Since they take up more horizontal space than an upright freezer, you should make sure you have the storage capacity for a larger freezer before purchasing one.

Chest freezers cost between $200 to $1,500, depending on their size.


Caring For Your Freezer

Whether you’re relying on the freezer built into your refrigerator or using a stand-alone freezer, proper maintenance is key. Follow these tips to keep your freezer in good shape!

Keep it clean

You probably clean your refrigerator out regularly, so why not do the same for your freezer? Even though keeping your freezer at the recommended 0°F/-18°C will protect your food from bacteria build-up, you should still keep the interior of your freezer sanitary. Real Simple recommends cleaning the inside of your freezer at least twice a year. To do this, simply wipe down the freezer’s interior with a soapy dishcloth to remove any dirt or grime that’s built up. 

Avoid opening the door too frequently

Opening your freezer door too often, or even accidentally leaving the door open without realizing it, can lead to a build-up of frost inside of your freezer. Frost build-up won’t cause your frozen food to go bad, but inconsistent temperatures inside the freezer from too much airflow could lead to foods thawing and refreezing too often. Plus, nobody wants to deal with defrosting a fridge that’s covered in a solid layer of frost!

Check the temperature regularly

As we mentioned, most freezers have a built-in thermometer that you can use to regulate the temperature of your freezer. However, these systems can be unreliable, which is why we recommend purchasing a secondary freezer thermometer to monitor your freezer’s temperature. However, if you notice that your freezer’s temperature is changing on its own, you should have it checked out by a professional.

Keep your freezer full of food!

Did you know that an empty (or almost empty) freezer can cause irregularities in temperature? Keeping your freezer full, or half full, of food will help stabilize the internal temperature of your freezer, and will also help keep your energy consumption down. Win, win!

Defrost your freezer as needed

Defrosting your freezer when you notice a build-up of ice or frost on the inner walls is key to maintaining the efficiency of the freezer. Always follow the instructions for defrosting your freezer found in the product’s manual and never try to scrap away ice build up with sharp tools, as this could lead to serious damage to your freezer. If you have a chest freezer, you will need to manually defrost it at least once a year, or whenever you notice frost build-up, as chest freezers do not come equipped with an automatic defroster like upright freezers and refrigerators do.


Will food spoil if it stays in the freezer for too long?

No. Properly storing food in a 0°F/-18°C freezer will stop bacteria from growing on your food. However, if you keep food in the freezer for an extended period of time, you may notice a decline in the quality of the product (i.e. taste, texture, color, etc.).

Does freezing food affect its nutrient value?

No. According to the FDA, freezing food has no effect on a food’s protein or nutrient value.

Does freezer burn mean my food isn’t safe to eat?

Contrary to what many people think, freezer burn does not mean your food is unsafe to eat. However, freezer burn may affect the taste and texture of your food. You can avoid freezer burn by properly sealing your food before it goes in the freezer, and by monitoring how long it’s been frozen.

What is the best location to store a stand-alone freezer?

Stand-alone freezers should be kept in a cooler part of your home or business, like the basement. Keep freezers out of warmer locations, like garages, to ensure that your products stay cold longer in the event of a power outage.

How long will food stay frozen in a freezer if there’s a power outage?

Typically, a full freezer of food will stay cold for up to two days. The less food in your freezer, the faster it will thaw.

What’s the best way to organize food in my freezer?

Items like bread, butter, alcohol, and ice creams are best kept in the door of a freezer. Store fruits and vegetables, baked goods, and ice cream on the top shelf. Meat, fish, and anything that’s prone to leak should go on the bottom shelf of your freezer.

What foods should not be frozen?

Products like eggs, lettuce, cottage cheese, and unopened canned foods should not be frozen. For a complete guide to freezing food, check out the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics food storage chart.