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.
If You Forgot To Close The Freezer Door
When you wake up and discover that the fridge or freezer has been left open all night, follow these steps:
- Remove all foods that are wet, soft, leaking, or thawed.
- Carefully check perishable foods like milk, meat, fish products, and cooked leftovers and prepared foods.
- Assess the damage to your food.
- Toss out what looks or smells spoilt or have completely defrosted.
- Check both your fridge and freezer to see if it still works and cools properly. You should do this separately and regardless of only one of the doors being left open.
How Long until Food Goes Bad if the Refrigerator Door Is Left Open?
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. 
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 don'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.
- Fresh, dried, and candied fruits that aren’t cut.
- Jelly, relish, ketchup, mustard, olives, pickles.
- 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, or if it looks or feels unusually mushy or soggy or moldy and slimy, toss it out. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Will This Cause Damage to the Fridge?
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 prevents the fridge from overheating even if the door itself was left open for many hours.
Does It Make My Electricity Bill Go up?
Having your refrigerator door left open for a couple of minutes will not waste much energy. However, 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 the normal condition.
So, the rise in electricity consumption is probably the least of your worries.
It Won’t Cool After Being Left Open?
- 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.
- If the manual defrost failed to rectify the issue, then you need to troubleshoot the problem further.
- Check the return air vent in the freezer or the damper door in the fridge. Place your hand at the back wall of the fridge to see if cold air is blowing into the cooling vents.
- 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?
Here are the steps to take when you need to do this:
- Make sure to empty everything out.
- Unplug the appliance for 24 hours and leave all doors open.
- You can use a fan for warm air to speed up the melting.
- Make sure that all the ice is melted.
- Disinfect and give it a good clean once you are in there.
- 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 was 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 did 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.
What Foods Can Be Refrozen After Thawing?
Once food has thawed, it can attract bacteria and that 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 the 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.
- Waffles, pancakes, or bagels.
- Hard cheeses.
If the food that got defrosted were 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 the bacteria. That is not actually true. Freezing does slow down the growth of bacteria, but once you start defrosting your food, the bacteria will begin to grow again.
So, whether it was the door left open, break down, power cut, or blackout during a storm, take it as an excellent opportunity to have a fresh start. Sometimes the fridge just needs a 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 it again.
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