Have you ever stuck your restaurant leftovers in a hotel mini fridge only to wonder the next morning why they’re so…warm? You’re not imagining it. Hotel refrigerators are often set to a temperature that keeps drinks cool, but is’t cold enough to keep food or medications out of the “danger zone.”
How cold does a hotel fridge need to be to keep food safe?
When it comes to food safety, perishable foods (including cooked foods like restaurant leftovers) should never be in the “danger zone” for more than about two hours. That zone is from 40 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Food is safe while it’s piping hot (which is why you can let something simmer in the slow cooker for hours), and it’s usually safe when it’s in the fridge, because your fridge at home is probably set below 40 degrees. (The lower the better, as long as things aren’t freezing—Adjust your fridge to the mid 30s to make food last longer.)
If the hotel fridge is 40 degrees or warmer—which many are—you shouldn’t rely on it to keep food cold enough to consume safely. In the danger zone, bacteria can grow and you could end up with gross, spoiled food. In the worst case, you could get food poisoning.
Why is my hotel mini fridge so warm?
When hotel management decides what refrigerators to supply in guest rooms, they’re thinking about energy consumption (colder fridges use more electricity) and noise (the sound of a running fridge may annoy guests). They probably also convince themselves that people are mostly just refrigerating drinks and don’t care about food safety.
And so we get hotel employees rehearsing a line about how your room is stocked with a “cooler” and not a refrigerator. Or laughing on forums about hotel guests who get surprised when the fridge doesn’t act like their fridge at home. “I get complaints about refrigerators like once a week on average,” one notes. It gets worse: the latest trend in hotel fridges is a snooze feature that turns the fridge off for 8 hours while you sleep.
Now, not every hotel fridge is kept at food-unsafe temperatures. If you get one that actually keeps your food cold and maybe has a little freezer compartment up top, consider yourself lucky. But if the mini fridge seems warm and turning it up (or down?) doesn’t help, it’s not your imagination, it’s the fridge.
What to do if your hotel fridge won’t keep things cold
If you’re storing medications or breast milk or anything else that needs to be stored at a particular temperature for health reasons, hotels will generally tell you that you can bring your stuff to the desk and they’ll store it for you in an actual fridge or freezer in an employee area. Not the most convenient, but that’s an option in a pinch.
If you haven’t left for your trip yet, consider packing a thermometer so you can tell if the fridge is actually kept at a food-safe temperature. You can also contact the hotel before you book to make sure you’re getting a real fridge if you need one. A hotel suite that offers a full kitchen or mini-kitchen is likely to have a real fridge, but check to be sure.
Being stuck with a warm mini-fridge isn’t the end of the world when it comes to food safety, but you’ll have to do some extra work. If you go grocery shopping, select foods that won’t go bad as quickly. Hard cheeses will keep pretty well, as will butter and yogurt (although the yogurt may get more sour as the days pass). Milk, meat, and seafood, on the other hand, are risky. You can also buy frozen foods and allow them to thaw in the fridge; those remaining ice crystals buy you a good bit of time before the entire item gets warm enough to spoil.
You can also make use of the ice machine down the hall. If you’ve got a bottle of medication or a small food item you need to keep cold, fill the ice bucket, nestle your precious inside, and then put the whole thing in the mini fridge and keep the door closed as much as possible. The lukewarm temperatures inside the fridge won’t stop the ice from melting, but the ice (and the chilled food or medication) will last a lot longer there than it will just sitting on the counter.
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