What Is the Correct Freezer Temperature?
The correct freezer temperature can vary according the local inspecting authority. The United States Food and Drug Administration does not set a specific temperature. They require that the food be frozen solid.
Most things that do not have high sugar content are frozen solid at about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Ice Cream needs to be below about 5 degrees to be solid. The colder the freezer temperature, the longer the food can be stored.
As a technician, I have always used 0 degrees F as a goal. That leaves a good size safety margin. Most reach-in freezers are designed to go down below 5 degrees. Most walk-in freezers are designed to get well below 0 degrees.
The Air Temperature Is Not Always the Food Temperature
The temperature of the food is critical and should be constant. The air temperature can increase because of door openings, but the food should be able to maintain temperature. Defrost cycles can significantly increase the air temperature also.
If the air can not circulate freely in the box, there may be warm spots. For example, putting a baking sheet on a shelf in a reach-in blocks the air flow and the food below the sheet may not freeze solid.
The FDA allows four to six hours for food put in the freezer to be cooled to the proper freezer temperature. Most freezers are designed to maintain the temperature of cold food. Too much warm food can increase the box temperature and even cause other food to warm.
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Thermometers and Tricks That Don’t Work
The health inspector will check the actual temperature of the food. This is usually done with an electronic thermometer with a stainless steel probe. Some use laser thermometers, but these are inaccurate. You can test it on a soft drink can and see how erratic it is.
Dial thermometers can loose their calibration if dropped. Some can be recalibrated. Liquid filled thermometers are always accurate if they were accurate when manufactured.
The thermometer in the freezer should be placed in the return air, not the air being blown out of the evaporator.
Remember that the health inspector will be looking at the actual temperature of the food. Recalibrating thermometers to give false readings will not work. Placing the thermometer in the colder discharge air of the evaporator will not work. These can give the appearance of proper freezer temperature but will not actually have an effect on the actual food temperature.
Related information is on the refrigerator temperature page
More in depth information is on the cold food storage page. cold food storage
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