Are my fridge and freezer Shabbos compliant?
1. What is the purpose of this guide?
This guide has set out to help the kosher consumer navigate the increasingly complex area of fridge and freezer purchase. We will highlight the issues that exist and review their potential solutions. Our aim is to both equip the reader with the information necessary before purchasing and to be able to resolve problems which arise when making use of appliances when away from home.
2. Why is this guide necessary?
The appliance marketplace has progressed greatly in recent years. Whereas in the past, appliances were controlled manually with the aid of physical switches, today magnetic ‘reed switches’ have been seamlessly incorporate in sleek finished products. Lights which could once be unscrewed have largely been replaced with LED lights which can not be removed.
3. Which appliance should I buy?
We can not provide a list of approved appliances but can provide guidelines as to points for consideration pre-purchase.
As a rule it should be noted, however, that the simpler lower-end products pose significantly fewer concerns with regards shemiras Shabbos. As appliances get more expensive, automation is far more likely and the chances of encountering problems grow.
4. What do I do to disable the light if I cannot find the switch to tape down?
In the past, most fridges operated a light when the door opened – by means of a visible spring loaded plunger switch which was released when the door opened. This could be taped down so that the bulb would not be lit when the door opened. These traditional switches have largely been phased out and manufacturers have replaced them with invisible magnetic switches. This does not, however, mean that the fridge can not be used on Shabbos. In most cases, the fridge can be tricked into thinking that it is closed by placing a magnet on the fridge casing next to the location of the reed switch. The following steps should be followed to locate the ‘magic spot’ and ensure that the fridge can be used on Shabbos:
- The door should be opened so the light is lit
- A small, powerful magnet should slowly be moved around the casing of the fridge – click here to be taken to our Recommended Products.
- When the lights go out, your magnet is next to the fridge’s reed switch and has tricked the fridge into thinking that the door is closed
- In some fridges the switch is located at the front of the fridge in the centre of the its roof; in others the switch is hidden near to the door’s hinges
- The magnet should be taped down on that location.
- It has been noted that in some cases, even if a magnet is in place, the lights nevertheless flicker momentarily. This would indicate that the magnet has not been accurately placed. The householder should be aware of this possibility, and test the magnet installation by looking carefully into the doorway to assure that the light is off at all times.
- It is worth contacting a frum fridge mechanic whose experience will assure that the magnet is accurately placed. The small fee to attain the peace of mind that one’s appliance is fit for Shabbos use may be a price worth paying.
- To a magnet from us, please click here to see our Recommended Products page.
5. If I unscrew the lightbulb are there still any other issues I need to be aware of?
Even if the light bulb in your appliance can be removed, other issues may still be present. The following is a list of some of the potential issues:
- Light is operated by door.
- Fan is operated by door closure
- Alarm sounds if the door is left open
- Separate vegetable drawer lights
- Led screen display changes when the door is opened
Even if the light can be disabled without resorting to taping down the light or placing a magnet, any of the above issues can often be present. The consumer is recommended to look carefully and listen for these issues as their presence can easily go undetected. In general, the resolution of most issues is by neutralising the door switch – either by taping it down or by securing a magnet in place. The consumer is recommended to tape down the switch; it may be necessary to screw the bulb back in, in order to find the correct location if the switch is indeed hidden.
6. Are there issues with regards the fridge which can not be resolved by taping down the switches?
Some of the highest end products carry features which raise additional Shabbos questions.
- Sensitive temperature changing features
- Traditional mechanical thermostats have been replaced with sensitive digital thermistors which are constantly ‘reading’ temperatures and ‘recording’ them to digital microchips. Although the position of the Federation Beis DIn is that these readings and recordings do not pose a halachic concern in their own right, any actions actions which the appliance initiates in response to these readings may be a concern.
- Appliances whose features make mention of finely calibrated fridge cavity temperature should also raise alarm bells. An example of an appliance whose use is subject to these questions is one in which the following feature and accompanying explanation was offered: Fast freeze Power Freeze rapidly lowers the temperature of the freezer once new items have been added, to ensure food is kept fresh and stored safely. Although there are possible halachic arguments which permit this, consumers who wish to avoid halachic doubt are recommended to avoid purchase of appliances such as these. If already purchased, all food should be allowed to cool before refrigeration.
- Localised cooling – another similar feature offers to direct all the cold air present in the freezer to the specific area within the compartment where it is required. This feature generally operates a series of small motors which close ‘dampers’ to focus airflow to the area where it is most needed. What can be done to avoid the issue? These appliance may be best avoided where possible; alternatively, care should be taken when using the appliance not to insert hot food but to wait till it has already cooled.
- Vacation mode – this feature designed to keep foods cooled but to limit energy use, needs to be assessed. In some appliances, it can only be activated by switching it on. Some contemporary models constantly monitor the appliance to detect whether the owner is on vacation. If vacation mode is activated, the cooling cycle will run infrequently. When the system detects that the door has been opened, the appliance will suddenly kick into life. How can the consumer avoid this issue? Reading the appliance specification or contacting the manufacturer can generally rule this out. Ask whether the vacation mode is activated automatically or needs to be manually set.
7. Do you have a quick checklist of what to look out in a fridge?
The best way to purchase a fridge is by running a live test of the appliance in operation. Look out for the following:
- Is light bulb unscrewable? Can a physical plunger switch be taped down? Will it be necessary to attach a magnet? Does the magnet disable the light?
- Does the fan sound. Listen for a quiet humming sound as the door opens. Can it be overriden by taping down switches/magnet?
- Does the LED screen change?
- Does an alarm sound when the appliance is left open for too long? Can it be neutralised with the help of a magnet?
- Read the fridge specification – are there advanced settings such as localised cooling or automatic vacation mode? Read Q6 for more information on this issue
8. MY FRIDGE ALARM SOUNDS WHEN THE DOOR IS LEFT OPEN FOR TOO LONG – IS THIS AN ISSUE ON SHABBOS?
In most appliances, disabling the door switch will resolve this issue. Wherever possible, one should disable the alarm before Shabbos by neutralising the door switch.
When the fridge alarm rings on Shabbos, it is forbidden to close the door to stop the disturbance. In rare cases where the alarm is sounding in a particularly disturbing manner, it would be permitted to ask a non-Jew to close the fridge door or to disable the alarm in another manner. Switching the alarm off oneself, however, is not a valid option.
In cases where the door switches have already been disabled before Shabbos, the alarm will generally not ring. In some appliances, the alarm is not activated by door opening and will not be disabled by door closing; instead, the alarm is sounded when the internal temperature has risen too high. If this is the case, closing the door would not directly deactivate the alarm; rather, the alarm will continue to ring until the desired temperature has been attained. Closing the door is permitted under these circumstances as the interaction with the appliance’s electronic controls is considered indirect.
9. My fridge makes a wHooshing noise as soon as the door is closed – is this a problem with regard Shabbos, what can I do to resolve this?
If you would be describing a quiet humming noise, this would be an indication that the motor or fan are running as the door opens, This issue would need to be resolved by neutralising the door switch. See Q4 and Q5 for information on how to do this.
The whooshing noise is of no significance at all, and experts we have consulted explain that this is just the sound of the air being drawn to the fridge by the vacuum created by the difference in air pressure between inside and outside of the fridge’s cavity.
10. The appliance I am buying advertises a ‘Sabbath mode’, will this guarantee that I need not worry about its use on Shabbos?
Unless you can ascertain that the appliance is under rabbinic supervision, there is no guarantee that its Sabbath-mode resolves the possible issues.
We are aware of models from Liebherr and Miele which carry certification from the Star-K agency in Baltimore; the consumer should ensure that the product information carries the Star-K symbol before buying. If you have trouble finding this out, e-mail email@example.com and we will attempt to research the matter for you.
Even models which do not carry certification offer a measure of reassurance and may be used. By comparison to the issues involved in the use of ovens, the pitfalls related to cooling equipment are less problematic. Members of the public are advised to check that the fridge indeed operates in a visibly acceptable manner; the points in Q7 should be checked for these purposes.
11. WHICH fridge/freezer DO YOU RECOMMEND I BUY?
The safest way to buy these appliance, is to call your local frum salesperson; he will be equipped with all the relevant details regarding each appliance. Supporting our community businesses is also a special mitzvah!
12. What do I do if I have questions about this guide?
As always, if you require assistance, the ShailaText team of Rabbonim are available on 07403939613.
Questions can also be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org.