Should you get freshly cooked food cool before refrigerating?

I have this memory of reading or being told that you shouldn’t put significantly hot food in the refrigerator, I believe because it’ll warm up the rest of the food in the fridge too much and overwork the appliance in general. But letting it cool before putting it in has its perils as well.

So as I throw out almost three cups of cooked sticky rice because I forgot about it overnight, I’ve been inspired to ask: what, if any, concerns exist with just sticking my leftovers directly from the stove into the fridge so I don’t forget it and leave it out all night, as I have many times in the past?

Yes, especially things that are heavy and hot like a big pot of soup or stew or cast iron cookware. A good thing about cold winter months is that I can leave those on my concrete front porch and not worry about it till the next day. Mmm…energy savings. Extra points if there’s a few inches of snow.

As for forgetting, maybe throw an oven mitt on your pillow or the stairs to your bedroom or something as a reminder.

This seems to be a common question. I googled it and got many hits. Most of them say that, No, you should not let hot food cool on the counter before putting it into the refrigerator. Here’s one example of the cites I found.

jnglmassiv, the sites I found all recommend dividing that big pot of soup or stew up into smaller containers before sticking it in the fridge. Although if it’s cold enough outside, sure, you can stick your leftovers out there to cool down.

The crux of the matter seems to revolve around whether or not the hot/warm food will raise the refrigerator temp above 40 long enough to cause the other food in it to spoil. This can also be a localized thing- you can heat up stuff near the hot item above the safety temp without doing it to the entire fridge. So if you made a gallon and half of chili, and it’s boiling hot, you probably want to let that cool down some before throwing it in the refrigerator- ideally by putting it in several containers optimized to lose heat quickly- wide, shallow ones ideally.

That doesn’t mean to leave your stuff out all night, or for hours on end either. According to Michigan State’s extension service (and apparently the USDA, according to the MSU site), you want to cool it to 70 within 2 hours, and then into the fridge where it needs to cool to below 41 in 4 more hours.

My personal rule, formulated with people in my family who have worked in food service, is to let something hot cool down just to the point where I don’t need gloves to move it into the fridge. Butthe point where I want to do it fast, because it is still hot. This has not resulted in either food in fridge getting too hot, or food poisoning.

I will put big pots of soup in the sink and fill up the sink 3-4 inches with cold water. By the time the water is warm you can usually put the soup it in the fridge.

If your soup can be thinned just add some ice, or if not put some ice in a zip loc bag and put that in the pot. As above, cooling the pot in a sink full of cold water will work, use ice water actually. For all external cooling use the largest pot or pan you can to maximize the surface area of the food exposed to the air or the container. If you can’t immerse point a fan at it. If nothing else tilt the pot or pan up about 3/4" on one side so there is some air circulation around the bottom.

The idea of cooling is to get it done as quickly as possible, the specific temperature you reach doesn’t matter if you get it in the fridge quickly.

Double post

I wouldn’t throw out rice that sat on the counter all night, if it were ONLY rice. Any meat, egg, poultry, go ahead and dump it and cry.

From this site:

How long does cooked rice last at room temperature? Bacteria grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F; rice should be discarded if left for more than 2 hours at room temperature

I regularly cook a big pot of stew and freeze what I don’t eat in small Tupperware containers, I normally let it cool until I can comfortably hold the containers which is normally when I’ve finished eating what I’m having straight away so 30 minutes to an hour, I have occasionally forgotten it for a few hours before putting it in the fridge and so far it has never been a problem

I almost never refrigerate rice overnight and I’m not dead yet (anecdote).

This is pretty much what I was going to say. I make stuff all the time that I leave on the counter until it’s comfortably warm to the touch before I refrigerate. usually only 1/2 hour to an hour. On the rare occasions I’ve forgotten it and left it overnight it was thrown out (except rice- I would probably chance cooked rice left out overnight as well). Done this for years and has never been a problem.

EDIT: Just noticed Peanuthead’s post about rice left overnight-- ok, the rice gets tossed too.

Everything I’ve read and learnt from my wife (who used to be a fishmonger and has food handling certificates) is that no, you shouldn’t let it cool before refrigerating. Doesn’t stop me, however.

Fish spoils really quickly, and I never have a giant portion of it. I would put that in the fridge.

Rice is cheap, and it gets dried out and icky if you leave it uncovered on the table overnight, so I’d usually throw it out. But I’ve often eaten (or refrigerated) food left out overnight. Yeah, bacteria might be growing on it. They grow a lot faster at 80F than at 65F, and my kitchen is usually no warmer than 65F overnight most of the year. I look at it and sniff it before eating it. Yeah, you can’t smell some pathogens, but you can smell a lot of what grows, and that’s a decent indicator of how MUCH whatever was on it has grown.

I’m more careful if I’m feeding strangers, or people that I know are immune compromised. But honestly, I mostly don’t worry about food poisoning from anything but raw meat and raw, unpeeled produce. And I only worry a little about the produce.

But … food does sometimes spoil if left out overnight (by the look&smell test) and so if it’s something valuable (leftover meat, broth, a yummy vegetable dish) I’m more careful about chilling it before I go to bed.

Oh, and the other issue with refrigerating hot food is that it costs more money to over-work the fridge like that.

I always let big wet hot things cool some before I put them in the fridge. If I have a big pot of stew or broth, I leave it covered as it goes from hot to warm, and then put it in the fridge. In the winter, I, too, sometimes just tuck food in the “big fridge”* overnight.
*The “big fridge” is the backyard, conveniently accessed by the back door which is close to the kitchen. If it’s going to be below 40 until I wake up, and the food won’t be ruined by freezing (when it’s colder) I often chill stuff there. I just use a very heavy pot so critters can’t get into it.

Rice is left standing at room temperature after it’s been cooked, the spores of Bacillus cereus can grow into bacteria, which will ultimately multiply and may produce toxins that cause vomiting or diarrhea.

Same with cooked beans…very potentially hazardous !

I work in food service and we typically Ice bath (50/50 ice and water) bath everything before refrigerating. Your methods of using cold water only will certainly help. I would keep the water marginally circulating (running) if possible.

Official advice is necessarily quite stringent. It can’t presume to offer 100% safe advice of course, so it’s still a version of “chances are you’re fine”, but it sets that level closer to sterility than many of us would bother with. It has to, obviously - it’s for a wide range of people with wide ranging levels of health and of sense.

I’ve left rice overnight then dealt with refrigerating/freezing it, I’ve left pots of soup on the hob and remembered the following day (or the next) to do something with them. And I know it’s never made me ill. I’ve stuck hot things in fridges and freezers to cool them quickly, with no ill effect.

Case studies aren’t evidence, I grant you, and of course you don’t have my kitchen or my immune system! The only official evidence I have is that my behaviour is risky, but nevertheless, in your shoes, I’d take my chances with saving rice that’s been left overnight, or with bunging it in the fridge whenever is convenient.

@ Leaper

I have the same memory from when I was a kid. My parents always waited for something to cool completely before putting in the fridge.

I was on a food safety course a few years ago and asked the same question as you and was told this was a throwback to the days of iceboxes. They literally cooled contents with a block of ice. It was a legitimate concern then that if you put something hot in the icebox it would melt the ice too fast and spoil everything before you could get your next supply of ice.

Like many things, the story and the behaviour remained long after the need for it ended.

They said with modern refrigerators you can/should put things in the fridge immediately before they have a change to cool down. As others have noted, the only downside is if they are so hot they heat the entire contents of the fridge to the danger point. But that’s only a negligible probability with modern equipment unless you’re filling the fridge completely.

I am right now waiting for a freshly baked blueberry pie to cool a bit before I put it in the fridge. Sitting on the stove, it is ever-so-slightly reducing my heating cost. In the fridge it will cost to crank up the chilling. And it might over-heat something near it. And blueberry pie will keep fine at room temp for a few days. It’s both sweet and sour. In fact, I might just put a cat-guard over it and leave it on the stove overnight and go to bed…