“And now what do I do with this? “I put it in the refrigerator.” It is difficult to deny that this logic prevails in the kitchen. Knowing that low temperatures preserve food and prevent the growth of microorganisms, we tend to put everything in the refrigerator without stopping to think if it is the right thing to do. But if you're about to put away a container with the steaming stew you just cooked, it might be time to do so, because storing hot food in the fridge carries certain dangers. Although not for the reasons that come to mind a priori.
There is a widespread belief that putting a still hot dish in the refrigerator can ruin it. However, as explained by Gabriela Brieba, European Expert on Food Quality and Safety, there are no reasons or evidence to indicate that this is the case. On the other hand, she points out, “this act can damage the rest of the food in the refrigerator and thus increase the risk of food poisoning,” the expert advances. This is, without a doubt, the biggest drawback, but it is not the only one.
The refrigerator suffers
The first problem with this practice is that we force the refrigerator to work twice as hard. “The mission of this appliance is to maintain low temperatures so that food stays cold; If you introduce something at higher temperatures, the machine will have to work harder and spend more energy to reach 4 or 5 degrees, and its useful life will be shortened,” Brieba emphasizes. Therefore, even if you manage to keep everything refrigerated, the refrigerator will suffer and with it everything inside.
Food nearby is heated
When a hot container or plate is placed in the refrigerator, the temperature inside and the temperature of the food nearby increases. Thus, what was cold becomes hot, increasing the risk of food contamination and reducing its optimal storage time. "The big problem is that when something is heated, microorganisms tend to multiply and produce toxins quickly, but as at
"In the end, the food cools down again, we don't know that this change has occurred," explains the food safety expert. And she adds that: “one of the most frequent causes of food poisoning is precisely due to improper refrigeration of cooked dishes.”
Another drawback is that the food cools unevenly. As Brieba explains, this is because the temperature will not decrease uniformly, but will do so more slowly in the part where the hot container is. Again, this can increase the risk of bacteria forming on certain foods and even on the hot plate itself.
So what is the correct way to refrigerate hot food? Should I let it cool to room temperature first? Although bacteria grow quickly at room temperature, various organizations such as the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advise allowing prepared foods to cool slightly before storing them in the refrigerator. “Of course, always within two hours after having prepared them,” Brieba recalls, adding that “otherwise, it cannot be ensured that the product is in the same initial state as when it was prepared.”
Likewise, to improve the cooling process, the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (Aesan) recommends distributing the warm food in tupperware or small containers, because the smaller the portion, the faster it will cool. To place them inside the refrigerator, the ideal is to place them separate from the rest of the food and at the top of the refrigerator, which is the area where the temperature is most stable. “Hot air tends to rise while cold air falls, so by placing it at the top, less food will be affected by the change in temperature,” explains Brieba.