Food Safety During a Power Outage: What You Need to Know

When storms like Sandy and Nemo create power outages, your perishable food supply is at risk. Do you know how long your refrigerator and freezer can safely store food during a power loss? Do you know what is safe to eat and what should be tossed in the garbage?

When food is not kept cold enough, bacteria can multiply and cause foodborne illnesses, according to The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). Common symptoms of foodborne illnesses include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and chills. In rare instances, foodborne illness lead to serious complications.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers important tips on how to know if your food is safe during a power outage:

How to Prepare for a Potential Power Outage

  • Keep an appliance thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer so you can see the temperature of your food after a power outage. Your freezer should be set at 0 degrees or below fahrenheit and your refrigerator at 40 degrees or below.
  • Buy ice or freeze containers of water for ice to keep food cold in the freezer and refrigerator.
  • Freeze refrigerated foods that you won’t need immediately. This will help them last longer.
  • Group foods together in the freezer to help them stay cold longer.

During a Power Outage

  • Keep the freezer and refrigerator doors closed as much as possible so cold air stays inside.
  • A refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours if it remains unopened.
  • If unopened, a full freezer will hold the temperature for about 48 hours, and 24 hours if it’s only half full.

After a Power Outage

  • If power was out more than four hours, discard refrigerated meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers, and deli items.
  • Foods that still have ice crystals or are still below 40 degrees may be refrozen or cooked.
  • If you didn’t have a refrigerator or freezer thermometer, use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of individual foods.
  • Don’t taste the food to check for safety. (You can’t trust your sense of smell, either.)

When your ice cream melts, it’s easy to see. Other foods can look and smell perfectly harmless even after they’ve reached dangerously high temperatures. When in doubt, throw it out! It’s not worth the risk to you or your family.

Photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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LMj Sunshine

Thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you.

Ruth R.
Ruth R.2 years ago

People have dried and treated food for thousands or hundreds of years. We all need a stock pile of food that will help to get through a challenging time.

A new item on the list of things to do -- with a list of items that keep -- without energy sources!

Ruth R.
Ruth R.2 years ago

What if you need food?

Connie O.
Connie O.2 years ago

thanks for sharing

Jennifer L.
Jennifer L.2 years ago

Thanks... I didn't realize it only took four hours for so many items to go bad. I have been on a lucky street and haven't had an outage in a long time, even when so many neighbors have. I'm sure my luck will run out sometime, though!

Anna Ballinger
Anna Ballinger2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Dale O.

Interesting comments as well. In the winter...just open the door, very cold out there...a blizzard at the moment with thick snowflakes the size of a pizza...thankfully, very few times losing power in the winter. The worse was the 1998 Ice Storm with no power for 13 days but the wood stove kept us warm and the food stayed outside.

China Holley
China H.2 years ago

Thank you Ann!

Leia P.
Leia P.2 years ago