Keep Food Safe When the Power Goes Out

September 14, 2022

Severe winds, lightning, and even squirrels can temporarily cause the power to go out. Power outages can be frustrating, especially when your fridge is stocked with perishable foods. Extended power outages are rare, but when they occur, it’s important to understand food safety measures to avoid illness.

Food safety tips to keep in mind before, during, and after a power outage:

Before an outage

Keep an emergency supply kit on hand. Be sure to include nonperishable food items like bottled water, powdered milk, canned goods, cereal, and protein bars in your emergency kit.

If you have a warning that an outage is possible, fill a cooler with ice—just in case the outage spans several hours. Having a cooler ready to go can buy extra time for your refrigerated and perishable items.

During an outage

 If an outage occurs, do not open the refrigerator or freezer unless absolutely necessary. An unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours. A half-full freezer will keep food frozen for about 24 hours, and a full freezer for about 48 hours.

If it looks like the power outage will last longer than four hours, move your important perishable items to an ice-filled cooler.

After an outage

If refrigerated foods have been exposed to temperatures higher than 40 degrees for more than two hours, the American Red Cross recommends discarding the items. In addition, food with an unusual color, odor, or texture should be thrown away.

When there is an extended outage, throw out any perishable food.

Items safe to consume after a two-hour exposure to 40+ degrees:

Hard cheeses that are adequately wrapped

Butter or margarine that is adequately wrapped

Taco, barbecue, and soy sauces

Peanut butter, jelly, mustard, ketchup, and relish

The best way to avoid illness from spoiled food during or after an outage is to follow the four-hour rule. After an outage, always smell and inspect foods before consuming, and remember: when in doubt, throw it out.