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Hey, Matt:

Good news! I may have solved the energy crisis in California. The temperature inside the freezer at a local 7-Eleven was minus 23 degrees Fahrenheit according to the thermometer mounted on the side of the unit. That's 55 degrees below the freezing point of water. The clerk told me that they were required by law to keep it at least 11 degrees below freezing. The temperature being reported exceeded the government standard by a factor of five. Different 7-Eleven, different freezer, same temperature. I think every 7-Eleven should change the settings on the freezer 25 or 30 degrees higher than the current settings. What do you think?

-- Ken McLean, San Diego

Unless your store clerk is a moonlighting law student, don't take any more legal advice from a guy who sells malt liquor and lottery tickets. The state health and safety code doesn't specify freezer temperatures. All it says is that food must be held at a temperature sufficient to solidify the liquid. The freezer with bags of cubes can be kept at about 32š F. The mac-and-cheese and TV dinners, 0š. Ice cream, -20š. (I'm sure the freezer you saw held ice cream, yes?) Frozen milk products require a much lower temp than other frozen stuff. It's as much a quality and shelf-life thing as a food-safety thing. If all ice cream freezers were raised 30 degrees, we'd have to carry our Dove Bars home in a bucket. Note how these three categories of goods are in separate freezers, so they don't waste energy holding ice at -20.

But Grandma Alice has a question. One of her pet peeves. Why do we walk up to a grocery-store cooler with the big glass doors, then open the door and stare at the selections for five minutes? While we're make up our minds, all the cold air pours out, and the compressors switch on to bring the temp back down, which wastes energy. The doors are glass, folks. They're glass so you can see through them. Why do you have to open a glass door to see what's inside? Worse yet, when the door is finally closed, it's so covered with condensation that the next person has to open it to see anything. Whew! Grandma just goes off on this topic.

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