Power’s Out: How long will refrigerated food keep?

A power outage may leave you wondering if the food in your fridge is still safe to eat. The answer is, it depends.  It’s all about time and temperature. There are three general rules to remember:

1. Food in your fridge will be good four to six hours after the power goes out.

2. If your freezer is full, foods in it will be safe to eat for 48 hours.

3. A half-full freezer will keep food safe for 24 hours.

So, if your power has been out for more than 48 hours you may need a few garbage bags.

To keep perishable foods safe longer, keep the door of your fridge and freezer shut as much as possible. If you know the power will be out for an extended amount of time, try to move your food to a friend’s freezer or refrigerator.

Block dry ice can also help keep your refrigerator cool. Be careful not to touch with bare hands or breathe the fumes—read the handling directions for dry ice carefully.

If you have frozen food that still has ice crystals, you can refreeze it. Just remember that it must be refrozen while the ice crystals remain. If there are ice crystals now and power isn’t restored before the food thaws completely, it should be discarded.

Any food that has thawed and been at a temperature above 40 degrees for two hours or longer should be tossed.

I know being without power for an extended amount of time is no fun, and having to throw away your groceries is painful.  But when it doubt, please throw it out. Don’t risk a foodborne illness because you can’t bear to throw away food you think “might” be good. Some of the most dangerous illness-causing bacteria can’t be seen, smelled, or tasted.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service has more information on food safety during storms and hurricanes.

Additional Resources:

Planning for Food after a Disaster

A Quick Consumer Guide to Safe Food Handling


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