Keeping food safe when the power goes out
By Howard Seltzer, National Education Advisor, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
The good news is that the National Weather Service says that competing climate factors suggest a less active hurricane season this year compared to many in recent years. The bad news is that it doesn’t take a hurricane to knock power out. Spring and summer storms often do it very effectively.
But, even when the power goes out, your refrigerator and freezer can help you and your family avoid food poisoning, but only if you are ready for the emergency and know how to react.
- Make sure that you have appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer. That’s the best way to be sure that your food is safe after a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40°F or lower in the refrigerator, 0°F or lower in the freezer.
- If there are warnings of a severe storm on the way, freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags. They are small enough to fit in around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold and won’t make a mess when the ice melts. Don’t fill them too full or they might split because water expands when it freezes.
- Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
- Be sure to have a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling
When the Power Goes Out
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
- A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed.
- A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full). If your freezer is not full, group packages so they form an “igloo” to protect each other.
- Place meat and poultry to one side or on a tray so if they begin thawing their juices will not get on other foods.
- If the power is going to be out for a long time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.
When Power Comes Back
- Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.
- Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture, or feels warm to the touch.
- When in doubt, throw it out.
- With frozen food, check for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40°F or below.
- Never taste a food to decide if it’s safe .
See these charts to help you evaluate specific foods
- Refrigerated Foods: When to Save and When to Throw Out
- Frozen Food and Power Outages: When to Save and When to Throw Out
For more information about food safety in an emergency, check out these resources: