How Long Can A Body Be Refrigerated Before Cremation?


A funeral is always an unpleasant thing to deal with. When it is unexpected it is always harder planning the funeral and trying to meet the wishes of the deceased and honor them properly. 

You may want to think things over and not rush everything, but how long can you keep the body refrigerated before the cremation or burial process? 

A body can be refrigerated for an indefinite amount of time before the funeral if you choose. If you use a funeral service, a body is usually refrigerated between 8 and 24 hours, this is dictated by local regulations.  The reasons to refrigerate a body differ and you are usually charged per day. 

No matter what you want to do and whether you want to refrigerate a deceased loved one or not, you should know your options.

Delaying the cremation or burial for a few days often gives time to help people think more clearly and make better decisions.

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So read on to learn more about your options and which one is best for you. 

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What is body refrigeration?

Body refrigeration is the process in which the body is stored at a certain temperature to slow down in an attempt to prevent the decay of the body.

The definition of what refrigeration entails differs from place to place and will also depend on how long you want to store the body.

Some establishments do no differentiate between refrigeration and freezing. Where the latter is keeping the body frozen or almost frozen for longer periods of time.  Generally, the bodies are stored between 36 °F and 39 °F. 

Most mortuaries offer short term refrigeration. This is usually under fourteen days or just until the body is viewed or observed.

If you choose a package for the whole service, this will be included, if not, places will charge you per day. Refrigeration is the greenest way to keep a body before cremation though it still uses a lot of power to keep the room that cold. 

Why do people refrigerate the body before a cremation? 

There is actually no one reason for the body to be refrigerated or preserved in any way before a cremation or burial and usually not required by law.

There are a number of reasons that one would do this for other than just a cremation:  

  • Viewings- The reason that this is most often done is for a viewing, open casket or observation of the body. Some people want to see the body as close to as it was when the person was alive and believe that refrigeration is the best way to do this.
  • The law-  One other reason is that some states require that the body be stored in a refrigeration unit prior to the cremation for health and safety precautions. This is not all states so check with your local laws. 
  • Crime/fraud- If the death is being investigated for an illegal or criminal activity they may need to keep the body untouched and preserved for a few weeks.  This is usually initiated by the family when they feel something is not right.  
  • Transportation-  When bodies are brought from overseas it may take time to get all the legal paperwork in order.  Also, travel and processing are lengthy when dealing with other states or internationally. 
  •  No Body- Sometimes a body is not available, like in the case of a missing person or when a soldier’s body has not yet been recovered.  These bodies may be at another location as a “Jane/John Doe” and just waiting to be identified. 

How long can you delay a cremation or a funeral service?

When handling the remains of a deceased body time is of the essence to slow down the decomposition. You want to contact a funeral service relatively quickly after death. 

In America, a cremation/funeral service usually happens from a few days up to two weeks after the death. There are some extenuating circumstances where it may take longer for this to happen. 

Don’t cremations usually happen very quickly? 

Yes, they used to happen very quickly after death and sometimes directly after death. The first reason is that the body starts to decompose right away and the longer you wait the faster it will decompose. 

The second being religious, some religions require that the body be cremated in a certain amount of time after the death. If you want a direct cremation, make sure others know about this verbally or even better in a Will. 

With modern preservation techniques such as refrigeration, it allows families to take their time when planning out all end of the details.  If there were no preplanned arrangements or no will, finding the right funeral home takes time. This is also not including getting the deceased affairs in order and discussing the options with the family. 

The last reason is that one may have to wai,t is State rules and regulations. Depending on your state and local laws you may have to wait a certain amount of time before you cremate the body.

Even if you want to have it done right away you will have to check here to learn about the laws where you live.

Are there other options besides using refrigeration to preserve a body? 

Yes, there are a few and depending on how long you want to keep the body for. 

Dry ice- If you do not have access to a refrigeration unit or doing a home burial, a body can be briefly preserved by keeping it on dry ice. This will not keep the body as long a refrigeration unit and can become quite costly. The purchase of dry ice is often regulated and if you can find it, large quantities are not always readily available. 

Embalming- This is the most widely used method in conjunction with refrigeration to preserve a body and is used all over the States.

Embalming is the process when the deceased’s bodily fluids are removed, and a chemical agent introduced to give the body a lifelike appearance.  The embalming agent is often a formaldehyde base which is very toxic to people and the environment. See my article here on how long you can wait to embalm a body.

Eco-balming- This is a newer and safer alternative to formaldehyde and again used alongside refrigeration. This is may not be available at all funeral homes but becoming widely available. It is usually a non-toxic plant-based oil (usually essential oils)  that will not cause any damage to the environment the person doing the embalming. 

Immediate burial/cremation- It is exactly what it sounds like.  It happens as fast as possible without any embalming and minimal refrigeration if any. 

Why choose refrigeration over embalming. 

  1. Cost- It is cheaper to refrigerate a body for a short period of time than it is to embalm it. Embalming costs around $450, while refrigeration is a fraction of that. Some places will even include this in the full service for further savings. 
  1. No viewing- If the casket is closed at the viewing and no one is going to see the body, it can save money, and resources to not embalm it. This also applies to when there will not even be a viewing. 
  1. Environment-  Embalmining is made from harsh chemicals that go into the atmosphere upon cremation. They are also hazardous for the embalmer and those that inhale the chemical read here “is safe to go to a funeral when pregnant.”
  1. Holistic- It is a more natural way to keep the body for those that are religious, spiritual, environmental or just don’t like to use chemicals. 
  1. Time- With refrigeration, you usually don’t have to wait for more than 24 hours if at all to have the body cremated. Where if you get it embalmed, it will take more time due to the planning and actual process itself.

What is the cost of a body to be refrigerated? 

The average price to store a body per day is $60.00.  Many funeral homes will not charge this alone and it will be included in the price of the cremation. 

Where are the bodies stored in a morgue/ funeral home? 

To save on costs and to keep them out of view of the general public they are usually underground in a basement. This saves on costs as it is cooler down there and you can also regulate the body temperature better. 

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