Keep Refrigerated Foods Cool
You may have to keep the refrigerator door open for long periods while you are assessing the problem. According to the Virginia State University Cooperative Extension, any refrigerated foods that are derived from animals -- such as meat, cheese or milk -- should be thrown away after six hours with no power or cooling. You can temporarily store food from the refrigerator in the freezer or a cooler with ice or dry ice. Do not handle the dry ice with your bare hands. Check the food you have removed from the refrigerator periodically to prevent it from freezing.
The refrigerator and freezer compartments usually have separate thermostat controls. The thermostat should be easily visible on the side or back of the refrigerator compartment once the food has been removed. Set the thermostat control to a lower setting and listen for the refrigerator to turn on. The thermostat control may need to be replaced if the control knob that changes the temperature is broken or if the refrigerator fails to turn on and all other parts still work.
The refrigerator and freezer may also have separate defrost timers. The refrigerator should defrost about four times in one 24-hour period. Ice can build up on the appliance's components when the defrost timer does not work. This can make the refrigerator stop cooling. Turn the refrigerator thermostat to "Off." Keep the refrigerator door open for up to two days to let it defrost manually. Use towels to soak up any water from the defrosting process. Set the refrigerator thermostat to its normal cooling setting and close the door. The defrost timer may need to be replaced if the refrigerator doesn't resume cooling.
Separate controls for the refrigerator and freezer compartments means there will also be separate wiring for these controls. Unplug the refrigerator and remove the service panel at the back of the appliance. Broken, frayed or burnt wires that run from the electrical relay panel to the refrigerator controls should be replaced by a qualified electrician. Transfer the frozen food to a cooler with ice or dry ice. Check this food periodically with a thermometer so it does not rise above 40 degrees F.