Your Fridge or Freezer Door Was Left Open All Night — Now What?

What do you do when you wake up one morning, only to discover that the fridge or freezer door was inadvertently left open overnight? What do you do with all that food that was in there? Most importantly, how much will this hurt your pocket with a high electric bill or a need to replace or repair the appliance?

Before you go into panic mode, you are not alone, it happens all the time. Here you will find out what to do with your food and how to check for damage to your appliance.

Be sure to check out the video below for a quick recap of the essential steps to take when your refrigerator door is left open overnight. It covers the most important points to help you handle the situation effectively.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what to do when your fridge door’s been left open for 2 hours or even overnight, check out this useful and cheap gadget here on Amazon that you can slap onto any fridge. It’s a lifesaver for never leaving your fridge door open accidentally again!

wsdcam Freezer Door Alarm with Delay When Left Open, 3/15/30/60 Seconds Adjustable Delay Refrigerator Alarm Wireless Fridge Alarm Door Open Alarm Loud 108 dB


refrigerator door alarm
Refrigerator door alarm

This fridge alarm has been a lifesaver, especially with the kids and my forgetful husband. It alerts me when the freezer door’s open for 3-60 seconds. Just peel and stick it on any door – super easy! It’s like an extra set of eyes for our fridge and home security. You should definitely give it a try!

fridge freezer door alarm

Forgot to Close the Fridge or Freezer Door? – Quick Action Tips

When you wake up and discover that the fridge or freezer has been left open all night, follow these steps:

deep freezer door left open

If the Fridge Door was Left Open:

  1. Check Fridge Perishables: Inspect milk, meat, and leftovers. Discard any that have been warm for over two hours.
  2. Soft Butter Indicator: If the butter in the fridge is soft, it indicates the interior was too warm.
  3. Remove Spoiled Fridge Food: Discard fridge food that smells off or looks strange.
  4. Inspect Other Fridge Foods: Quickly check other fridge items like fruits, vegetables, and condiments for any signs of spoilage.
  5. Clean the Fridge: After removing spoiled items, clean the fridge with soapy water and a baking soda solution.

If the Freezer Door was Left Open:

  1. Remove Affected Freezer Foods: Take out all items that are thawed, wet, or soft.
  2. Check Freezer Perishables: Carefully inspect meats, fish, and prepared foods in the freezer. Toss out what looks or smells spoilt or has completely defrosted.
  3. Evaluate Other Freezer Items: Briefly review other frozen items, and discard anything that’s partially thawed or damaged.
  4. Clean the Freezer: Once cleared, clean the freezer similarly with soapy water.
  5. Check Freezer Functionality: Ensure the freezer is working correctly and reset to the appropriate temperature.

Common Steps for Both:

  1. Check Appliance Cooling: Make sure both the fridge and freezer are cooling properly.
  2. Reset Temperatures: Adjust the fridge and freezer to their ideal temperatures and monitor their cooling efficiency.
  3. Consider a Door Alarm: To prevent future incidents, think about installing an alarm that alerts when the door is left open.

How Long until Food Goes Bad if the Refrigerator Door Is Left Open?

food gone rancid

If the refrigerator door was left wide open, most perishable foods would go bad if it was over 2 hours, and the temperature did rise above 40°F (4°C). If the temperature remains at 40°F (4°C), then you will not need to discard the food.

So, that means if the fridge was left wide open for a whole night in the warm kitchen, then all the perishable foods, ones that require refrigeration, should be thrown away. [1]If the door was left open just a little bit, just touch the food if it feels chilled. Everything at the back of the fridge should be fine, most likely. Items kept in the fridge door may need a closer inspection. If everything feels cold and the refrigerator is working fine, then just close the door and be more careful next time.

What Foods Can I Save After the Fridge Door Is Left Open?

Condiments such as mayonnaise, tartar sauce, and horseradish last longer; they are good for 8-10 hours if the temperature doesn’t go much over 50°F (10°C).

The following foods will last longest even if the temperature is over 40°F (4°C):

  • Hard cheeses.
  • Processed cheeses.
  • Fruit juices.
  • Canned fruits.
  • Eggs.
  • Fresh, dried, and candied fruits that aren’t cut.
  • Jelly, relish, ketchup, mustard, olives, pickles.
  • Butter.
  • Margarine.
  • Raw veggies, fresh mushrooms, herbs, and spices.
  • Dressings that are opened and vinegar-based.
  • Sauces like Worcestershire, soy, or barbecue.
  • Bread, waffles, bagels, pancakes.
  • Fruit pastries and pies.

**Exception: You need to do the smell and texture test. If it smells spoiled, looks or feels unusually mushy or soggy or moldy and slimy, toss it out. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Read Also: Does Mayonnaise Belong In The Fridge Or Cupboard?

Will This Cause Damage to the Fridge?

engineer is trying to fix the refrigerator

It is possible that damage can be done if the freezer door or fridge is left open all night; however, it is mainly reducing the life of your appliance. It will primarily depend on how many hours it was left open, and if it was left cracked or completely wide open.

When the door is left slightly cracked, the cool air in the fridge is replaced by warm air from the room. This means that the compressor has to work extra hard to bring the temperature back to normal and keep up with the heat of the room entering the refrigerator.

While working harder, the motor will generate more heat, making the temperature in the kitchen go up and making it harder for the fridge to keep the temperature at normal levels. This self-perpetuating cycle can burn out the compressor, causing the refrigerator to stop working completely or not to cool properly.

*Note: Newer appliances are equipped with smart technology that will detect when the door is open and shut off to prevent the compressor from overheating.

Also, if your freezer compartment has drawers, that will help to keep food frozen and prevent the fridge from overheating even if the door itself was left open for many hours.

Does It Make My Electricity Bill Go Up?

electricity meter

Having your refrigerator door left open for a couple of minutes will not waste much energy. Leaving it cracked or wide open overnight, will force the compressor to work harder to keep the food cold, which will use more energy and cause your electric bill to increase.

The amount that your electricity will go up can vary. However, on average, the increase is about an extra 15 cents per day. So, basically, it would double the normal daily energy consumption, which would be about around 15 cents if the fridge was working under normal conditions. 

So, the rise in electricity consumption is probably the least of your worries.

It Won’t Cool After Being Left Open?

 refrigerator that is not cooling,
  1. The first thing you need to do is to defrost your refrigerator manually. Excess moisture could have entered the freezer and formed ice around the coils, preventing the fridge from cooling properly because the air isn’t circulating.
  2. If the manual defrost fails to rectify the issue, then you need to troubleshoot the problem further.
  3. Check the return air vent in the freezer or the damper door in the fridge. Place your hand on the back wall of the fridge to see if cold air is blowing into the cooling vents.
  4. Make sure that nothing is stuck in the condenser fan.

When checking the fan or other electrical parts, make sure you unplug the fridge first. If the basic checks did not help, then there is not much you can do, and it is probably best to call the engineer for help.

How Do I Manually Defrost the Fridge?

melting ice in freezer

Here are the steps to take when you need to do this:

  1. Make sure to empty everything out.
  2. Unplug the appliance for 24 hours and leave all doors open.
  3. You can use a fan for warm air to speed up the melting.
  4. Make sure that all the ice is melted. 
  5. Disinfect and give it a good clean once you are in there.
  6. Plug the appliance back in and let it run for a few hours to see if it works.

Now, if your fridge is actually broken or you need to defrost it to make it work properly again, you are probably going to lose most of the food that is still edible.

To save the food, that was still good; the best thing to do is get a cooler or a big bucket and transfer everything in it. The frozen food from the freezer will help keep everything cold for a little while. That will buy you some time but not much. So cook what you can and accept your losses.

My Freezer Has Defrosted; Can I Refreeze Food?

When it comes to refreezing defrosted food, the rule of thumb is that you can refreeze it if the temperature does not go above 40°F (4°C) or if there are still ice crystals on the frozen food. If the appliance was just slightly cracked, chances are the temperature remained at 40°F (4°C), but if the door was left wide open, then you will need to assess the damage further.

Read Also: Practical Tips On How To Freeze Milk Safely And Successfully

What Foods Can Be Refrozen After Thawing?

defrosted food

Once food has thawed, it can attract bacteria, and those bacteria can quickly multiply, making the food spoil and unsafe to eat. Here is a quick guideline for foods that can be refrozen after thawing to give you an idea of what to keep and what to throw out.

Foods you should never refreeze:

  • Ready-made combination meals and TV dinners. 
  • Stuffed poultry.
  • Anything in a freezer with a temperature exceeding 45°F (7°C), unless it still has ice crystals and feels cold.
  • Frozen leftovers.
  • Melted ice cream.
  • Juice Concentrates.
  • Any food that feels slimy, or gives off a foul odor or smell.

Food that is safe to refreeze:

  • Bread, muffins, and cakes without custard filling.
  • Pie crusts and homemade dough.
  • Flour.
  • Waffles, pancakes, or bagels.
  • Hard cheeses.

If the food that got defrosted was not appropriately wrapped in the first place, I would be extra cautious when refreezing it. However, if the food was properly wrapped in sealed freezer bags, it would make it safer to referee it again.

Also, a lot of people think that freezing food will kill bacteria. That is not actually true. Freezing slows down bacteria’s growth, but once you start defrosting your food, the bacteria will begin to grow again.

So, whether the refrigerator door was the door left open, a breakdown, a power cut, or a blackout during a storm, take it as an excellent opportunity to have a fresh start. Sometimes the fridge just needs proper sorting out. You’d be surprised how much stuff you will find at the back of the refrigerator that has been there for ages that you were probably never going to use again.

Read Also: Butter Can Be Frozen Up To A Year — Here Are The Best Ways To Do It.

3 thoughts on “Your Fridge or Freezer Door Was Left Open All Night — Now What?”

  1. One night, in a rush to get to bed after a long day, I accidentally left the fridge door ajar. I woke up to a kitchen that felt like a scene from a disaster movie. The cold air had escaped, causing the fridge motor to work overtime and some of the food to spoil. The milk had turned sour, and the fresh vegetables I’d bought the day before were wilted and sad-looking. The worst part? The ice cream I’d been saving for a special occasion had melted into a sticky puddle. It was a harsh lesson in mindfulness, one that led to a day of cleaning up and mourning the loss of my favorite treats. From then on, I double-checked the fridge door every night, a small ritual to prevent another chilly catastrophe.

  2. I often visit my best friend, who lives in the house I own. I can’t tell you how many times the door isn’t closed completely (it’s a ten yr old fridge). 🤨 Yes, I keep pointing this out, but am usually ignored, or told “it’s my ADHD”.

  3. When I first moved into my own place, I kept forgetting to close the fridge door. It wasn’t just annoying; it was also wasting energy and risking spoiling my food. After a few too many lukewarm yogurts and a couple of light bulb moments (literally, because the fridge light would stay on), I knew I had to find a fix.

    So, I went for the simplest solution I could think of: I put a small, bright-colored sticky note on the fridge door. It wasn’t fancy—just a big, bold reminder that said, “CLOSE ME!” But you know what? It worked. Every time I grabbed something from the fridge and saw that note, it was like a gentle nudge to check the door was properly shut.

    Over time, that little note trained me well. Now, I never forget to close the fridge door. It’s funny how such a small thing can make a big difference. Plus, my yogurt stays cold, and my energy bill is a bit lower. Win-win!


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About Jen Evansy

Nutritionist, researcher, avid home cook, and writer interested in everything nutrition and food-related. Striving to inform, encourage, and inspire all the readers to make healthy and informed choices when it comes to cooking, food, diet, and nutrition.