A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Should you store film in the refrigerator?

May 8, 2001

Dear Straight Dope:

I have a detestable roommate whom I desperately wish to prove to be a fool, among many other things. One of his many undesirable attributes is his desire to store photographic film in the refrigerator, saying that it lasts longer that way. I say he is just an idiot from Kansas and doesn't know what the hell he is talking about, and that as the film continues to decay, it leaves less than desirable chemicals on my food. Can you settle an argument and please exonerate me from having to look at thirty canisters of film (he got it on sale!) next to my raw vegetables?

Sorry, your revenge on your odious Jayhawk roommate will have to take another form. The following is from the Big Yellow Film Company's (Kodak's) website (their tech pub E-6, www.kodak.com/global/en/professional/support/techPubs/e6/e6.shtml):

General Picture-Taking Films

Under normal temperature conditions of 24 C (75 F) or lower, Kodak color films for general picture-taking do not require refrigeration. Storing them at room temperature allows the film to mature to its aim color balance and speed. However, extreme heat is film's worst enemy!

You can refrigerate these films to minimize changes if you have a good reason to do so [italics mine]. For example, if after using some rolls of a particular film, you want to maintain the film at that specific color balance for an extended period, you can store other rolls of the same emulsion in a refrigerator or freezer. (The emulsion number is printed on the film carton.)

Other Storage Recommendations

We do not recommend refrigerated storage to extend film life beyond the expiration date printed on the carton, especially for high-speed films such as KODAK ROYAL GOLD 1000 and KODAK PROFESSIONAL PORTRA 800 and SUPRA 800 Films. High-speed film used after its expiration date may show excessive graininess due to the effects of cosmic and gamma radiation that is naturally present in the environment. Refrigeration will not prevent the effects of radiation.

During the summer or in tropical regions, where temperatures exceed 24 C (75 F) for extended periods, we recommend refrigerated storage for all Kodak films. Do not open the original, sealed packaging until you are ready to use the film. If you open it, the protection against high humidity will no longer be effective.

If you opened the package, reseal the film in vapor-tight packages or in cans or jars before refrigerating it. You can store 35 mm films in their plastic canisters. When ambient temperatures return to normal, at or below 24 C (75 F), remove films for general use from storage so that they can age normally as intended.

To avoid condensation on cold film surfaces, let all film warm up to room temperature before breaking the seal.

The above applies to general purpose film. For film intended for professional use, Kodak says, "For long-term storage, refrigeration is still the best way to maintain professional films at optimum quality." 

Remind your roommate that refrigeration will not extend the life of the film past the "Expires On" date, and that the fridge is no shield against rays from outer space--but from the tinfoil lining in his hat, I'll bet he already knew that.

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