How to Keep Your Food Safe During a Power Outage
Find out how long your food will keep if you lose power — and how to make it last longer
A storm knocks the power out. Suddenly you have no heat, no lights — and no juice to keep the refrigerator and freezer cold (unless you have a backup generator). How long will the food keep? And how can you make it last as long as possible?
First, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed. Every time you open them you let out the cold — and without power, you can’t get that cold back.
As a general rule of thumb, if the power’s been out for less than four hours — and you haven’t opened the door — the food in the fridge is probably still good, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If you’re not sure if a food is still safe, consult the handy chart from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) at the bottom of the page.
If the inside of the fridge has been at more than 40 degrees F for more than two hours (check it with an appliance thermometer), throw the food out.
How long food in the freezer lasts depends in large part on how much food is in there. A full freezer gives you about 48 hours, and a half-full freezer, about 24 hours, according to the FDA. Again, this assumes you haven’t opened the door. If the freezer stays at or below 0 degrees F, the food is okay.
If you have access to the roads and to a store that stocks ice, buy some dry or block ice (assuming it’s not sold out) 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 according to USDA.
Before the next storm
If there’s a big storm coming and you know the power might go out, here are a few steps you can take in advance to prepare your fridge and freezer:
1. Move foods from the fridge to the freezer. Do this for items you won’t need immediately. They’ll keep longer in the freezer. Bonus: A full freezer will keep everything in it cold longer than a half-empty freezer.
2. Prepare a cooler. Stock up on ice and have a large cooler handy. If it looks like the power will be out for more than four hours, put the ice in the cooler as well as the foods you most want to save (like that expensive piece of steak or block of gourmet cheese).
3. Stock the freezer with dry or block ice. An alternative: Freeze containers of water.
4. Keep food out of water’s way. In case of a flood, store nonperishable food items, along with your bottled water, on a high shelf. If food comes in contact with the water, you need to discard if it’s not in a waterproof container. Screw-caps, snap lids, and cardboard boxes are not waterproof.
5. Make sure you have a non-electronic can opener. This might seem obvious, but if the power does go out, you’ll need a way to open all those cans or you could find yourself with food all around you but nothing to eat.
|When to Save and When to Throw It Out|
|FOOD||Held above 40 °F for over 2 hours|
|MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD | Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes||
|Thawing meat or poultry||Discard|
|Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, or egg salad||Discard|
|Gravy, stuffing, broth||Discard|
|Lunch meats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef||Discard|
|Pizza, with any topping||Discard|
|Canned hams labeled "Keep Refrigerated"||Discard|
|Canned meats and fish, opened||Discard|
|CHEESE | Soft Cheeses: blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco||
|Hard Cheeses: Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, Provolone, Romano||Safe|
|Grated Parmesan, Romano, or combination (in can or jar)||Safe|
|DAIRY | Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk||
|Baby formula, opened||Discard|
|EGGS | Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products||
|Custards and puddings||Discard|
|CASSEROLES, SOUPS, STEWS||Discard|
|FRUITS | Fresh fruits, cut||Discard|
|Fruit juices, opened||Safe|
|Canned fruits, opened||Safe|
|Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates||Safe|
|SAUCES, SPREADS, JAMS| Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish||Discard if above 50 °F for over 8 hrs.|
|Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, pickles||Safe|
|Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, Hoisin sauces||Safe|
|Fish sauces (oyster sauce)||Discard|
|Opened vinegar-based dressings||Safe|
|Opened creamy-based dressings||Discard|
|Spaghetti sauce, opened jar||Discard|
|BREAD, CAKES, COOKIES,PASTA, GRAINS | Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas||
|Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough||Discard|
|Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes||Discard|
|Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette||Discard|
|Breakfast foods — waffles, pancakes, bagels||Safe|
|PIES, PASTRY | Pastries, cream filled||Discard|
|Pies — custard, cheese filled, or chiffon; quiche||Discard|
|VEGETABLES | Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices||Safe|
|Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged||Discard|
|Vegetables, cooked; tofu||Discard|
|Vegetable juice, opened||Discard|
|Commercial garlic in oil||Discard|
|When to Save and When To Throw It Out|
|FOOD||Still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated||
Held above 40 °F for over 2 hours
|MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD | Beef, veal, lamb, pork, and ground meats||
|Poultry and ground poultry||Refreeze||Discard|
|Variety meats (liver, kidney, heart, chitterlings)||Refreeze||Discard|
|Casseroles, stews, soups||Refreeze||Discard|
|Fish, shellfish, breaded seafood products||Refreeze. However, there will be some texture and flavor loss.||Discard|
|DAIRY | Milk||
Refreeze. May lose some texture.
|Eggs (out of shell) and egg products||Refreeze||Discard|
|Ice cream, frozen yogurt||Discard||Discard|
|Cheese (soft and semi-soft)||Refreeze. May lose some texture.||Discard|
|Casseroles containing milk, cream, eggs, soft cheeses||Refreeze||Discard|
|FRUITS | Juices||Refreeze||Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops.|
|Home or commercially packaged||Refreeze. Will change texture and flavor.||Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops.|
|VEGETABLES | Juices||Refreeze||Discard after held above 40 °F for 6 hours.|
|Home or commercially packaged or blanched||Refreeze. May suffer texture and flavor loss.||Discard after held above 40 °F for 6 hours.|
|BREADS, PASTRIES | Breads, rolls, muffins, cakes (without custard fillings)||
|Cakes, pies, pastries with custard or cheese filling||Refreeze||Discard|
|Pie crusts, commercial and homemade bread dough||Refreeze. Some quality loss may occur.||Refreeze. Quality loss is considerable.|
|OTHER | Casseroles—pasta, rice based||Refreeze||Discard|
|Flour, cornmeal, nuts||Refreeze||Refreeze|
|Breakfast items — waffles, pancakes, bagels||Refreeze||Refreeze|
|Frozen meal, entree, specialty items (pizza, sausage and biscuit, meat pie, convenience foods)||Refreeze||Discard|