Left Your Fridge Door Open? Here’s How to Tell If Your Food Is Safe


Seeing an open refrigerator door when you walk in the kitchen is worrying. Is your food still safe to eat? Make sure you check out this article to find out! Let’s start with a quick answer.

Leaving your refrigerator door open will cause most food to go off. If the fridge door was left open for less than 2 hours, your food should still be good to eat. Food inside a fridge will begin to go off more quickly if the temperature gets above 40°F.

When it comes to the freezer, an ideal temperature is 0°F, but you should be safe until around 5-10°F as long as it’s just for a short time. If food has thawed, it’s important not to re-freeze. Instead, you probably want to eat it before it goes off! Using good judgement with respect to health concerns.

To help know if leaving the fridge door open has caused you any issues, here’s a basic breakdown:

The SituationThe Outcome for Your Food
The door was left open but the temperature remains below 40°FThe food is probably fine
The door was left open but the temperature is above 40°FYou should throw away perishable food
The door was left open for less than 2 hoursThe food is probably fine

Obviously, it’s best to err on the side of caution if you’re not sure whether food might have deteriorated or not. If it’s close to the ‘Best Before’ date and the door’s been left open for more than an hour or two, then it may be best to get rid of the food.

Now, I appreciate all of this has been a bit vague. So if you’re still unsure and want to dive into more detail, read on to find out more information about whether your food is safe after a refrigerator door has been left open.

Finding gone-off food in fridge
Leaving the fridge door open can be a costly mistake, let’s find out if your food can be saved!

Left Your Refrigerator Door Open? Find Out if Food Is Safe

Have you just caught sight of your fridge door left ajar? Then you are no doubt feeling shocked, worried, and irritated. What’s even worse is when someone has left the door open overnight. How can you tell if your food is still safe?

What should you do if you find your fridge door open?

The Temperature Is Below 40°F

Have you left your refrigerator:

  • Slightly open for a few hours?
  • Plugged in and running normally?

If the temperature inside the refrigerator still under 40 degrees Fahrenheit, then the food will be safe to eat. Your fridge will no doubt have been working extra hard to keep the temperature down during this time. But if it’s not a hot day out and your fridge is relatively new, it was no doubt up for the challenge.

Turning the temperature dial knob in a fridge
If the temperature is under 40 degrees, the food is safe to eat.

The Temperature Is Above 40°F

Have you left your refrigerator:

  • Slightly open for a few hours?
  • Plugged in and running normally?

Does your food feel warm? Or does the temperature inside the fridge read above 40 degrees Fahrenheit? Then you should throw away your perishable items.

You should also throw them away if you cannot tell what the temperature is inside the fridge. When it comes to expired food, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Some fridge models will not be able to keep the food safely cool for more than 2 hours. That is even true when the fridge is running but could especially be the case if:

  • The fridge is old
  • It’s a hot day outside
  • You don’t have a lot of food in the fridge
Depending on how old your fridge is, food could become unsafe in less than two hours

The Door Was Open for Less Than Two Hours

Has someone in the house left your refrigerator door open? Before you start interrogating the suspects to find the guilty party, check how long it’s been open. If someone has left it ajar for less than two hours, you’re in luck! You can close the door (and the investigation) with a clean conscience.

The average time you can leave a fridge open without food spoiling is between two and four hours. The factors that affect this time are:

  • The age of the fridge
  • The type of food in the fridge
  • How full the fridge is
  • The temperature in your kitchen

Let’s have a look at these factors in more detail:

FactorThe Effect It Has on the Fridge’s Temperature
The Age of the Fridge– Newer fridges maintain their temperature well even if you leave the door ajar for a few hours.
– Older fridges are not so good as staying cool. How well your fridge keeps cool also varies from model to model.
The Type of Food in the Fridge– If you’ve packed your fridge mainly with perishable items, the food will spoil more quickly. This is because perishable items do not tend to hold their temperature well.
How Full the Fridge Is– Since the refrigerator is full of already cold items, this will help retain some of the cold – even if the fridge is open / off for a period of time.
The Temperature in Your Kitchen  – If it is warm in your kitchen and the fridge door is ajar then the food will start to spoil faster (and vice versa). This is especially true for outdoor refrigerators exposed to higher ambient temperatures.

What About The Freezer?

If it’s your freezer door that’s been open, or if you suspect the freezer has also warmed up as a result of the fridge door being open, this is a simple trick you can use. The only catch is, you need to have done it before the incident occurs.

All you do is freeze a glass of water, and place a coin on top. In future, if you think the freezer might have thawed at some point, you can check to see if the coin has sunk into the water! If it has then you know the temperature has risen at some point.

Does Leaving the Fridge Door Open Waste Electricity?

Is your family constantly opening and closing the fridge door throughout the day? Then you might be wondering what effect this will have on your electricity bill.

Leaving the fridge door open for long periods of time will waste electricity. This is because the fridge compressor starts to run a cycle when you open the fridge.

We often leave the fridge door open for a few seconds while we do the following:

  • Give the fridge a quick clean
  • Fill the fridge with groceries
  • Decide what we want to eat

Here’s something that may surprise you. Leaving the fridge open while you rummage will only have a tiny effect on your electricity bill. Why’s that? Well, manufacturers make most modern fridges in a way that is super energy efficient.

This is also the case because what most affects the temperature of your fridge is its contents. If the contents are cool, the fridge will be too. Spending a few extra seconds choosing between jam and cheese in your sandwiches won’t alter the temperature of the food in the fridge. In fact, keeping the fridge door open while you root around only counts for 7% of the fridge’s energy use. So, burrow away!

So what’s the important thing to remember? Obsessing over the few seconds the fridge door is open will not change your electricity bill. But leaving it ajar for hours on end will. So make sure it’s firmly shut before you leave the room or go to bed.

The energy hog here is the fridge’s compressor. This typically kicks on and off to cool your fridge down to temperature. Leaving the door open will keep the compressor constantly running, though now it is trying to cool down your whole kitchen!

Appliance Expert: While an open door will keep a compressor running, it’s important to keep things in perspective. A refrigerator compressor uses around 1-1.5amps when running. An electric dryer for reference, uses around 25amps!

So, 1/25 the energy of a dryer during use. This is to say, don’t stress about the energy usage too much.

How Long Will a Warm Refrigerator Take to Cool?

Have you just finished giving your refrigerator a deep clean? Then you are probably wondering how long it will take for your warm refrigerator to cool down. And you likely want to know how long it will take for it to reach a safe temperature for your food again.

It could take your refrigerator between 3 and 24 hours for it to get back to its normal temperature. The amount of time your refrigerator will take to cool depends on a few factors. Take a look at them below:

  • The age of your refrigerator
  • The temperature of the contents in the refrigerator
  • The temperature in your kitchen
  • How often you open the refrigerator door
  • The type of refrigerator

Let’s have a look at some of these factors in more detail.

FactorHow it Affects the Cool Time of Your Refrigerator
The Age of Your Refrigerator– Older refrigerator models are slower than newer ones. So if you’re cooling your fridge from warm, it will do so the fastest if your fridge is new.
The Temperature of the Contents in the Refrigerator– If you put hot food straight into your fridge it will take longer for the fridge to cool down.
– If you put cold food into the fridge it will cool faster.
The Temperature in Your Kitchen– If your kitchen is hot it will take longer for the refrigerator to cool down.
– If the temperature in your kitchen is mild, the fridge will cool down faster.
How Often You Open the Refrigerator Door– If you open the refrigerator door constantly, it will take the fridge longer to cool down. This is because of the constant influx of warm air.
The Type of Refrigerator- Mini fridges take between 2 and 4 hours to cool.
– Fridge freezer combos take between 3 and 24 hours to cool.
– Freezers take between 12 and 24 hours to refreeze after defrosting.


If you’ve left your fridge open you may wonder whether the food inside it is still safe. You may be especially worried if someone left the fridge ajar overnight. I hope this article has helped you to determine if your food is safe to eat or not.

Looking to protect yourself against this in future? Temperature loggers can be found for quite cheap on Amazon. They can hook up to your phone to warn you of any sudden changes.

If this article has helped you, then why not check out some of our other articles and free guides? You could even sign up to our email list!

Have a great day!


I've been helping homeowners with appliance repair since 2016. Starting out as an enthusiastic amateur, I've since worked with many Appliance, HVAC, and DIY experts over the last 7+ years. My mission is to help fix your appliances and prevent future issues - saving you stress, time, and money. Visit my author page to learn more! Read more