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My boss was arguing that this is true and that it's a well known fact amongst culinary professionals that you should never put hot food in the refridgirator (he used to be a baker and had restaurants and such.)

A quick Google seem to suggest this is a widely held belief that I've never heard of before:

Snopes Thread:

I remember my grandmother would let food cool down on the counter before storing it in the refrigerator. Someone told me that you should never put hot food in the refrigerator as germs/bacteria would multiply. Is this true? Is this an urban myth?

Yahoo Answers

If you put food that's still hot in the fridge, it will raise the temperature of the fridge. Unless you have a huge commercial refrigerator with a strong motor, it will take awhile for the temperature to go back down to the safe level. This means that every single thing that is is the fridge will be at risk for bacterial growth.

Metafilter:

My girlfriend and I constantly disagree about this. She was always told, growing up, that you have to wait until recently-cooked food has cooled to room temperature before you can put it in the fridge. If you don't, she says, bacteria will grow on it much more easily and you will get sick.

Has this been investigated properly?

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I thought the only issue was that it might warm up other things in the fridge. I had never heard of it being a health issue before... interesting. –  Sonny Ordell Apr 6 '12 at 17:19
    
In a restaraunt setting you don't put hot food in the cooler because it can cause the food near it to rise in temp and cause it to spoil. –  Chad Apr 6 '12 at 18:18
    
A couple of relevant links from cooking: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/8919/… cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/17006/… –  dmckee Apr 6 '12 at 20:01
    
I, too, had never heard of this - until I was married. –  Wayne Werner May 1 '12 at 17:28
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1 Answer

This claim is from a time when refrigerators weren't nearly as efficient as today. By waiting for food to cool down on the counter, it will stay much longer inside the dangerous threshold (5-60C, 40-140F). If you put it in the fridge immediately, it will cool down to <5 much faster.

It won't raise the temperature in your fridge unless it's a 50x50cm 20cm high lasagna straight from the oven - just don't put it over other food containers.

This page by the USDA confirms it:

"Hot food can be placed directly in the refrigerator or it can be rapidly chilled in an ice or cold water bath before refrigerating"

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Forgot: one logical reason to wait a little is to avoid condensation. –  Ricardo Tomasi Apr 6 '12 at 22:45
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In our class for our food handler's card at our local health department, they recommend putting hot food in smaller or shallow containers, so that they cool off more quickly in the fridge. A large container that takes more than 2 hours to cool, even in the fridge, is still in that danger zone. –  thursdaysgeek Apr 9 '12 at 0:50
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The USDA link is down, but here's a link from foodsafety.gov that lists "letting food cool before putting it in the fridge" as a dangerous mistake. –  Andrew Lott Feb 25 at 16:55
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