Question: Can I put hot food in the refrigerator? When I eat a late dinner, I would rather not have to wait until the food has fully cooled down before refrigerating it.
Answer: It’s okay to place hot food directly in the refrigerator, as long as you follow a few simple guidelines.
You can put hot food in the fridge immediately. Don’t worry about overheating the fridge — as the U.S. Department of Agriculture points out, the refrigerator’s thermostat will keep it running to maintain a safe temperature of 40° F or below.
What you do need to worry about is whether the hot food will cool off quickly enough to reach a safe temperature once it’s in the refrigerator. So never put deep containers of hot food in the refrigerator — instead, place the hot food in shallow containers so it will chill quickly.
A large pot of soup or stew, for instance, should be divided into smaller portions and placed in smaller containers before being refrigerated. A large cut of meat or whole poultry should be divided into smaller pieces and wrapped separately or placed in shallow containers before refrigerating.
If you prefer, you can also quick-chill the food in an ice water bath before refrigerating it.
Either way, be sure you refrigerate the food within 2 hours of cooking it.