State Agencies | Online Services

Chill - Refrigerate promptly

Why it matters

Did you know that illness-causing bacteria can grow in perishable foods within two hours unless you refrigerate them? (And if the temperature is 90 °F or higher during the summer, cut that time down to one hour!)

But by refrigerating foods promptly and properly, you can help keep your family safe from food poisoning at home.

Follow these top tips to keep your family safe

Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours.

Cold temperatures slow the growth of illness causing bacteria. So it’s important to chill food promptly and properly. Here’s how:

  • Pack your refrigerator with care. To properly chill food (and slow bacteria growth), cold air must be allowed to circulate in your fridge. For this reason, it’s important not to over-stuff your fridge.
  • Your fridge should be between 40 °F and 32 °F. Appliance thermometers help you know if the fridge is cold enough.
  • Get perishable foods into the fridge or freezer within two hours. In the summer months, cut this time down to one hour.
  • Remember to store leftovers within two hours as well. By dividing leftovers into several clean, shallow containers, you’ll allow them to chill faster.


You can freeze almost any food. That doesn’t mean that the food will be good to eat – or safe.

  • Freezing does not destroy harmful bacteria, but it does keep food safe until you can cook it.
  • Your freezer should be 0 °F or below. Appliance thermometers help you know if the freezer is cold enough.

Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter.

Many people are surprised at this tip. But since bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature, thawing or marinating foods on the counter is one of the riskiest things you can do when preparing food for your family.

To thaw food safely, choose one of these options:

  • Thaw in the refrigerator. This is the safest way to thaw meat, poultry, and seafood. Simply take the food out of the freezer and place it on a plate or pan that can catch any juices that may leak. Normally, it should be ready to use the next day.
  • Thaw in cold water. For faster thawing, you can put the frozen package in a watertight plastic bag and submerge it in cold water. Be sure to change the water every 30 minutes. Note: If you thaw this way, be sure to cook the food immediately.
  • Thaw in the microwave. Faster thawing can also be accomplished in the microwave. Simply follow instructions in your owner’s manual for thawing. As with thawing in cold water, food thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
  • Cook without thawing. If you don’t have enough time to thaw food, just remember, it is safe to cook foods from a frozen state—but your cooking time will be approximately 50% longer than fully thawed meat or poultry.

To marinate food safely, always marinate it in the refrigerator.

Know when to throw food out.

You can’t tell just by looking or smelling whether harmful bacteria has started growing in your leftovers or refrigerated foods.

Be sure you throw food out before harmful bacteria grow by checking the Safe Storage Times chart.

Watch "Chill" Video

Learn "chill" tips for preventing food poisoning


Additional Resources:

Appliance Thermometers (USDA)
Appliance thermometers help you know if the refrigerator is cold enough.

Fighting BAC!® by Chilling Out (USDA)
The safest place for leftovers is in the refrigerator where they can "chill out."

Chill Fact Sheet exit disclaimer icon (Partnership for Food Safety Education)
Get the cool rules to Fight BAC! and refrigerate promptly and properly.

Lifelong Food Safety – Chill (FDA)
Part of the series on Food Safety for Moms to Be.

Information provided by

Page reviewed 6/4/2018