What temperatures should I keep my refrigerator and freezer set at?
For a refrigerator, if it's cooler, items like milk and meat last a bit longer. However if I set it close to freezing then some items start showing frost on them. What temperature should I set my refrigerator to for best overall results?
Since the person answering is likely to know, I'm also asking what temperature I should set my freezer to.
what if someone puts the gage up to 5 on the freezer and it only goes to 5 it seems like it creates freezer burn and I ma trying to explain that that may not be good. should you turn your freezer up as far as it should go? if not could you help me to explain to them why not. He insists that that is the way it should be.
Daniel is spot-on with his answer. I'll elaborate on it a bit here.
As indicated by his bottled water in the freezer trick, a full freezer is a happy freezer. The same applies to the refrigerator too. While I wouldn't put random bottles of water throughout my refrigerator, it's important to know that the fuller your refrigerator is, the more it holds its temperature when opening/closing, and the less energy you'll use. However, you don't want to jam pack it so full that there isn't any airflow around your stuff, because this can hamper the cooling efficiency as well.
The ideal refrigerator temperature is 35°F (1.6°C). You're not hugging the danger zone like you would be at 40°F (4.4°C), and you're distancing yourself sufficiently from 32°F (0°C) that you don't freeze half the stuff in your refrigerator. That said, the temperature within your fridge can vary rather significantly with normal usage.
The coldest parts of your refrigerator are the back, and the bottom. The back because the cooling element is there, and the bottom because warm air rises. If items you don't want frosty are getting frosty, then move them away from the back of the fridge. I would avoid putting items in the door of your fridge that are particularly sensitive to spoilage. The items in the door of your fridge can easily get as high as 59°F (15°C), and do so often. Putting milk and eggs in your door will significantly decrease their shelf life. Butter is OK in the little covered section in the door, because the door actually helps keep it's temperature a little better. You also generally don't want rock solid frozen butter.
So, put your meats on the bottom shelf in the back, your condiments (mayo, ketchup, mustard, etc.) in the door, and put everything else where it fits.
The warmest location differs depending on brand & model (my fridge is certainly colder near the top than near the bottom, probably because the cooling element is at the top...). I'd suggest people test out their own fridge about that and use it accordingly. And in any case the back will have a more stable temperature than the front, because of being further from the door.
If you have a split fridge-freezer with the freezer on top, the cooling is almost certainly from the top, as it works by diverting some of the cooling going to the freezer. (This is why the freezer temperature control effects both fridge and freezer, btw)
I want to add that I have tested the different areas of my last two fridges, and the door is not significantly different than the rest of the fridge. Maybe 1°F lower if at all. I think that is a myth, or was relevant for fridges made 30 years ago. The top vs bottom however does vary due to air current from the cooling system. To get items to 59°F would require leaving the door open for 20 minutes or more. Simply not going to happen.
Just moved. Fridge-a-horrid brand = 1 giant freezer zone on top & many tiny fridge zones below. New thermometer checked freezer (not much inside). 7°F at max! "We're all gonna die!" Danger fridge at 47°F but less than halfway to max! So adjust fridge, check minutes later, it's already starting to cool (ignore note "wait up to a day"). Open freezer, been closed for a while: it's blasting like breath from a white dragon! So, fridge temp affects freezer b/c element primarily behind freezer vent, not fridge vent! Spot on w/ this model derobert & JanC! We may yet live! Great q (& a's)! Thanks all!