Keeping Food Safe During a Power Outage

— Written By and last updated by Megan Owens
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Power outage

Electricity can be interrupted at any time, for various reasons; however, this is the time of year the risk of inclement weather affecting our power supply increases. One of the most important strategies to implement is a plan for keeping food safe before, during and after a power outage. Below are a few suggestions to consider when preparing for an outage.

Before a power outage:

  1. Place an appliance thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer. This is an important step to have in place at all times. Although refrigerators and freezers are operating, it is possible they are not operating at the correct temperature. Refrigerator temperatures should be at or below 41, and freezer temperatures should be 0 or lower.
  2. Purchase ice and/or store frozen containers of water, ice cubes and gel packs to use in refrigerators, freezers and coolers, to keep food cold in case the power is out for more than 4 hours.
  3. Freeze any refrigerated items you may not need immediately.
  4. Group food close together in the freezer. This will allow the food to stay cold longer.
  5. Identify sources for dry ice and block ice should it be needed.

When experiencing a power outage:

  1. If known, document the time power was lost.
  2. If possible, do not open the refrigerator or freezer. By keeping the doors closed, food will stay cold for up to 4 hours in the refrigerator; 48 hours in a full freezer and 24 hours in a half-full freezer.
  3. If the power has been out for 4 hours, if available, relocate refrigerated perishable food to a cooler with a cold source. Keep a thermometer in the cooler at all times to monitor temperature.
  4. When a long-term power outage is expected, consider dry ice or block ice

When power is restored:

  1. Remember when in doubt, throw it out. Never taste a food to determine safety.
  2. Frozen food that has ice crystals or has maintained a temperature below 41 may be safely refrozen. However, a reduction in quality is possible.
  3. Food is still safe to eat as long as the temperature remained at or below 41.
  4. Perishable food (meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, cooked leftovers, cut fruits and vegetables) should be discarded after 4 hours without power or a cold source. Any food with an unusual odor, color or texture should be discarded.

Although no one wants to experience the loss of power; having a plan in place for keeping food safe during a power outage can help reduce stress; and save money by protecting food supplies.


Centers For Disease Control and Prevention

North Carolina Cooperative Extension – Safe Plates

Food Facts – U.S, Food & Drug Administration