An arrange of fruit and vegetables including apples, carrot, eggplant and capsicum.

Refrigerated storage of perishable foods

Follow the guidelines in this fact sheet to help optimise the storage of perishable food in your refrigerator.

  • 18 August 2009 | Updated 28 March 2014

Storing perishable food

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Perishable food includes fruits and vegetables, fresh meat, foods purchased from chill cabinets, freshly cooked food stored to be used later. It is usually stored in the refrigerator. Some fresh fruits and vegetables, however, will store quite well out of the refrigerator as long as they are stored in a cool place.

Refrigeration can substantially reduce the rate at which food will deteriorate. Low temperatures slow down the growth of microorganisms and the rate of chemical (including enzymic) changes in food. These are two of the main causes of food spoilage.

Different parts of your refrigerator will operate at different temperatures. In older style refrigerators the upper shelves will often be slightly colder than the lower shelves. 

Different parts of your refrigerator will operate at different temperatures.

In more modern appliances, the temperature will be relatively uniform throughout. Check your instruction booklet to find the warmest and coldest areas inside your model.

Maximising shelf life

There are simple things you can do to maximise your refrigerator's shelf life. They include:

  • Check that your refrigerator is operating correctly. To do this you should use a refrigerator thermometer. These are available from some supermarkets, hardware and department stores. Your thermometer should show a temperature below 5 °C in the main section of the refrigerator.

  • Avoid crowding stored products in the refrigerator; ensure good air circulation around each item. Proper storage not only keeps your food in good condition and safe from the growth of food poisoning bacteria, but saves you shopping time and money because it reduces waste.

  • Some people, such as pregnant women, transplant patients and other immunocompromised persons, need to take extra care. They should consider how long chilled foods have been stored and which types they should avoid. Food Standards Australia New Zealand [86 KB PDF, external link] has produced special dietary advice on Listeria for this group.