How to Keep Foods Safe During a Power Outage

Inside of Freezer. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Here are the steps that you need to take to keep refrigerated and frozen foods safe during a power outage:

What You Need:

  • Appliance thermometers

What You Do:

  1. Advanced Planning: Place an appliance thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer. If you have any additional refrigerators or freezers (in the garage, basement, etc.), stick one in each of those too. This will make it easy to get an accurate temperature reading during and after any power outages.

  1. Keep your refrigerator and freezer full. A full freezer will maintain a safe temperature twice as long as a half empty freezer.

  2. During the Power Outage: Keep your refrigerator and freezer closed as much as possible. If you have food in your pantry that you can eat, use that instead of refrigerated or frozen foods. An unopened refrigerator will keep foods at a safe temperature for around four hours; an unopened freezer will keep foods safe for around 48 hours, if full; 24 hours if half-full.

  3. If your power is out for an extended period of time (i.e. longer than the times mentioned in step 3), you can keep foods safe longer by adding dry ice or bagged ice to your refrigerator and freezer. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep an 18-cubic foot freezer at a safe temperature for an additional two day (and it's something that many grocery stores sell).

    Use your thermometers to verify that you're maintaining a safe temperature, and add ice as needed.

  1. After a Power Outage: Check the temperature in your refrigerator and freezer. Your refrigerator needs to be at or below 40 degrees F; and your freezer needs to be at or below 0 degrees F.

    Any meat, fish or eggs that may have been stored at a temperature higher than 40 degrees for a period of two hours or more needs to be thrown out. Other foods may also need to be thrown out. Refer to the USDA chart, "When to Save and When to Throw It Out" for help in deciding what's safe to keep. *Scroll to the bottom of the USDA webpage for the chart.

    Article Source: USDA: Keeping Foods Safe During a Power Outage

    Tips and Warnings:

    1. If you lose your power during a power outage, do not move your food outdoors. The sun could warm it up -- even if the temperatures stay below zero. Instead use the freezing temperatures to freeze enough water to keep your refrigerator and freezer within the proper temperature range. Buckets or plastic shoe boxes filled with water will give you big blocks of ice, that will stay frozen for a long time
    2. If you live in an area that's prone to power outages, consider investing in a generator, so your refrigerator and freezer don't lose power.
    3. Add a bag of ice cubes to your freezer. Then, check it any time you've been away from your house for an extended period of time. If the cubes have been replaced with water or a solid mass of ice, you'll know that the contents of the freezer has thawed at some point and needs to be replaced
    4. Keep an inventory of your freezer on hand, so you'll be able to tell your insurance agent what you lost, if you need to make a claim. Here's a free, printable you can use
    1. Print a copy of this page, so you'll have it to reference during your next outage

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