Broken Refrigerator: How to Save Your Food

There’s never a good time for your refrigerator to break down. Unfortunately, it’s often just after you have loaded these appliances with freshly purchased groceries that their motors stop working or their cooling powers decline.

If you lack a solid plan for keeping your perishables fresh, you may find yourself having to pay for both repairs and a new grocery store shopping session.

Even worse, if you are not careful when preventing food spoilage, you or someone else in the home could end up with an ugly case of food poisoning. Hopefully, the tips below will help safely store your food when the refrigerator calls it quits.

Keep the Door Shut

Whether your refrigerator is no longer cooling foods to an acceptable temperature or has stopped working altogether, contacting a provider of refrigerator repair services in your area should be your top priority. The sooner the problem gets fixed, the more likely your perishables don’t end up in the trash can.

If the repairman cannot arrange a same-day or next-day visit, you may have to accept that certain food products such as dairy and meat will have to be let go. Be aware that each time you open the refrigerator door to inspect the food or to make dinner, you’re letting lots of cold air out.

Keeping the door closed while waiting for a same-day appointment will keep the inside temperature of your fridge from rising. However, if the refrigerator and the food in it are already noticeably warm to the touch, only keeping the door closed will not suffice.

It’s also important to note that even if residual cold temperatures can keep your food fresh until the technician arrives, you may still need to empty its shelves to allow room for the repair.

Assess What You Can and Cannot Keep

If you’re lucky, you’ve discovered the refrigerator problem before stored foods had the time to reach room temperature. Assess the temperature of perishable items by touching their containers with the palm of your hand.

If the milk, creamer, yogurt, and deli meats are warm to the touch, discard them. But certain foods that are stored in the fridge will remain safe to eat no matter how warm they become. These include:

  • Dry coffee beans and coffee grounds
  • Freshly laid eggs
  • Potatoes
  • Peanut butter
  • Condiments like relish, ketchup, and mustard
  • Many fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Dry and fresh herbs
  • Honey
  • Bread
  • Butter.

If you store olive oil or coconut oil in your refrigerator, these can be kept as well. However, many nut oils, such as almond and walnut oil, must be kept cool due to their high-fat content and tendency to go rancid at higher temperatures.

This tip also holds for nut flours like macadamia flour, almond flour and almond meal, and coconut flour. These ingredients can be closed tightly and stored in a cool, dry pantry for a limited amount of time.

Grab the Cooler

Start loading your perishables into an ice chest or ice cooler. If you have stored ice in the freezer that has not yet melted, use it to line the cooler’s bottom before starting. If there’s no ice in the freezer, line the cooler base with frozen foods first.

Packages of frozen berries and vegetables or even frozen meat products can be used to establish a temperature similar to the interior of a working refrigerator.

Next, place the perishable goods rescued from the dying refrigerator on top of the frozen items. These can include any deli meats and dairy products that are cool enough to the touch to keep.

Once you’ve loaded all of the perishables into the cooler, top everything off with a final layer of frozen foods, and then securely shut the lid. Keeping the cooler lid closed will prevent the frozen products from melting and ensure that a suitably low interior temperature is maintained.

Extra Tips

Several essential tips to remember when storing food in a cooler include:

  • Wrap frozen meat products, so that blood and other contaminants do not touch nearby foods.
  • If lacking sufficient frozen foods for cooling, make a quick trip to a nearby grocery store for ice.
  • Donate the extra food to a neighbor or local food bank to avoid overcrowding the cooler, which might reduce its cooling efficacy.


Although an ice chest or ice cooler can be an effective, short-term form of food storage, filling it to the brim and not adding enough frozen foods or ice can be just as detrimental as taking no action at all.

If you discover that your refrigerator is broken, you can preserve your perishables and pay less to get your pantry back to normal. Knowing which foods to save and which to toss can prevent food-related illness. Acting fast will ensure that less is lost and more is available once the refrigerator has been fixed or replaced.

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