By Marge Perry
Updated April 07, 2011
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Set refrigerator temperatures somewhere between 34-40º F since cold slows bacteria growth. Any warmer than 40 degrees and bacteria numbers ratchet up fast, doubling in as little as 20 minutes. Check the temp periodically with an inexpensive refrigerator or outdoor thermometer because built-in thermostats can be off. Tip: Stash hot leftovers in small, shallow containers and cool off in cold water or an ice bath for a short period before refrigerating because putting hot leftovers in the fridge can raise the temperature.
| Credit: Lee Harrelson; Styling: Mindi Shapiro, Laura Martin

Many refrigerators have a built in thermometer, but if yours doesn't, you should buy an appliance thermometer and keep it in the fridge at all times: your refrigerator should be no warmer than 40 degrees F. (It is optimal to keep it between 36-40 degrees).

In the event of a power outage, when the power goes on if you get a reading of 40 degrees, you're golden. But if the refrigerator temperature went above 40 degrees for more than 2 hours, much of the food may be unsafe.

For information about food safety issues, see Can Your Refrigerator Kill You? and Love Your Leftovers.