Weather the Storm and Keep Your Food Safe in a Power Outage

Summer thunderstorms (and winter ice storms) can knock out the power, causing problems ranging from your alarm not going off to having your refrigerator and freezer quit running. That puts the safety of your food in jeopardy.

Keeping an organized refrigerator at temperatures below 40◦ F  can help improve food safety and quality while reducing food waste . But what happens when your refrigerator loses power? How long does the fridge stay cold, and how long will the food inside remain safe?

Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed in the event of a power outage, which will help keep the inside cold. The refrigerator will maintain its set temperature for about four hours and a full freezer will retain its temperature for approximately 48 hours. When a freezer is about half full, that time is cut to 24 hours.

If the thermometer in the refrigerator indicates the inside temperature has been above 40◦ F for two hours or more, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends throwing out any perishable food (meat, poultry, fish, leftovers or eggs). For additional tips on keeping eggs safe if your power goes out, visit the Egg Safety Center.

FDA has the following suggestions to keep your food safe, even in an emergency:

Be prepared.

  • Make sure you have an appliance thermometer in your refrigerator (at or below 40◦ F) and freezer (0◦ F).
  • Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator or coolers.
  • Purchase or make ice cubes in advance and freeze gel packs ahead of time.
  • Check out local sources to be prepared to buy dry ice and block ice, in case it is needed.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerated food cold if the power will be out longer than four hours.
  • Freeze refrigerated items that you may not need immediately. This keeps them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Group food together in the freezer to help them stay cold longer.

When the lights go out.

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
  • Buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep an 18 cubic foot, fully stocked freezer cold for two days.
  • It is important that any item you eat be cooked thoroughly to a safe minimum internal temperature.
  • If at any point the food was above 40◦ F for two hours or more – or above 90◦ F for one hour— discard it.

Powering back up.

  • Once the power is restored, determine the safety of your food.
  • Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out no more than four hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. Discard any perishable food that has been at temperatures above 40◦ F for two hours or more.
  • Check the appliance thermometer in the freezer. If the thermometer reads 40◦ F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.
  • If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food for ice crystals to determine if the food is safe to refreeze or cook.

A power outage is never convenient. Following these guidelines will help keep it from becoming a bigger problem by keeping your food safe.