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Power Outage? Here’s How Long Food Lasts in the Fridge and Freezer

8 expert tips to avoid getting sick from spoiled food when the lights go out


spinner image thermometer used to measure the air temperature inside a fridge freezer.
PHOTOCRITICAL/GETTY IMAGES

Hurricanes, heat waves and other natural disasters heighten the risk of power outages. In the instance of any natural disaster, the initial worries often revolve around long-term concerns such as cleanup, financial rebound and insurance claims. Yet, in the immediate days following the event, a pressing concern might be if you have anything left in your house that is safe to eat.

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Extended power outages can lead to food spoilage, and while the financial hit from losing a fridge full of food is hard to swallow, the hit your health can take from food poisoning — particularly if you're older — is even harder to bear.​

“Older adults, especially those 65 or older, are at higher risk from severe illness from the germs that cause food poisoning,” the CDC says. “In fact, nearly half of people 65 or older diagnosed with a foodborne illness like salmonella, E. coli, campylobacter or listeria are hospitalized.”​

During a power outage, it’s critical to understand how long the food in your refrigerator and freezer will stay safe to eat. And knowing how to assess your food’s safety and maximize its shelf life is just as crucial. Follow these eight tips from federal food-safety experts to avoid getting sick from spoiled food when you lose power.​

​​Before a power outage​

1. Keep the refrigerator at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer at zero degrees or less. This will allow you to maintain the quality of your food longer if you lose electricity. Once the internal temperature of refrigerated and frozen foods goes above 40 degrees, germs that cause foodborne illnesses can begin to multiply.

2. Buy dry ice or block ice to help keep your food cold in the refrigerator longer. Having a cooler and frozen gel packs on hand may be helpful if you need to remove food from the fridge to keep it cold.

​​During a power outage​

3. Keep your freezer and refrigerator doors shut as much as possible. Food can stay safe for up to 48 hours in a full freezer, 24 hours in a freezer that’s half full, and up to four hours in the refrigerator.​

4. Transfer refrigerated food to a cooler if power has been out for four hours. Keep the temperature in the cooler at 40 degrees or below with the help of ice or a frozen gel pack.

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​​After a power outage​​

5. Never taste food to check if it's still good. There can still be germs that cause food poisoning even if the food looks, smells or tastes normal.​

6. Refreeze or cook frozen foods if they still contain ice crystals or read below 40 degrees on a food thermometer. Otherwise, throw out foods that are too warm or have an odd smell, texture or color.​​

7. Throw out perishable food. Be especially attentive to foods like meat, fish, cut fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk and leftovers if the power is out longer than four hours without an additional cold source. If you experienced flooding, throw away any food that came in contact with floodwater.​​

8. Clean and sanitize kitchen items and surfaces that have been flooded such as dishes, utensils, a refrigerator drawer or kitchen countertops. Wash first with clean, soapy water, then sanitize with a bleach solution (mix 1 cup of unscented household chlorine bleach with 5 gallons of clean water). Throw out wooden cutting boards because they cannot be properly sanitized.

​​Food that is safe to keep if above 40 degrees for more than two hours

  • Hard cheeses (cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano)​
  • Processed cheese​
  • Grated Parmesan and/or Romano in a jar or can​
  • Butter, margarine​
  • Uncut fresh fruit​
  • Fruit juices​
  • Canned fruit​
  • Dried fruit, raisins, candied fruit, dates​
  • Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish (unless above 50 degrees for more than eight hours)​
  • Peanut butter​
  • Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives, pickles​
  • Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, hoisin sauces​
  • Vinegar-based dressings​
  • Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, tortillas​
  • Waffles, pancakes, bagels​
  • Fruit pies​
  • Uncut vegetables​
  • Mushrooms, herbs, spices

Frozen food that is safe to refreeze if thawed and above 40 degrees for more than two hours

  • Home-frozen or packaged fruit (unless mold or slime develops)​
  • Home, commercially packed or blanched vegetables (discard after six hours)​
  • Breads, rolls, muffins (without custard fillings)​
  • Pie crusts, commercial and homemade bread dough​
  • Flour, cornmeal, nuts​
  • Waffles, pancakes, bagels

Source: FoodSafety.gov

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