How Long Your Food Lasts in the Fridge or Freezer Without Power

Sure, some items will be salvageable, but you don't want to get sick eating anything that's gone bad.

Whether it's a fallen powerline, a powerful storm, or a pesky critter, when the power goes out, it's important to perform a number of essential tasks. One of these safety checklist items includes checking the food, drinks, and other perishables in your refrigerator and freezer. Knowing exactly what you can save and what you'll need to toss after a power outage can save you time, money, and a potential health hazard. It all depends on a few factors, including what the product is and how long your power has been off. Here's what you can do before, during, and after a power outage to ensure your food is safe to eat. Don't wait until hurricane season to learn these food safety tips.

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What to Check Before the Power Goes Out

In advance of a potential emergency, such as a natural disaster making its way toward your region, buy appliance thermometers ($11, Amazon) for both your fridge and freezer. Your fridge should be kept at 40°F or below, and your freezer should be at 0°F or below, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can also freeze gel packs ($7, Walmart) to have ready for cooling food during a power outage.

Food Tips for When the Power Is Out

The best thing to do once you no longer have electricity? When it comes to your perishable foods, you should leave them be—at least for a bit. The CDC notes you should keep the doors to your fridge and freezer closed. If you do, everything will be fine for up to four hours in a refrigerator, and up to 48 hours in a full freezer, or 24 hours in a half-full freezer. If the outage lasts longer than four hours, you can put refrigerated food in a cooler with ice packs, as long as the temperature is kept at 40°F or below.

How Long Does Food Last in the Fridge Without Power?

Above all else, "When in doubt, throw it out," the CDC notes. And absolutely do not taste-test anything to see if it's still good. According to FoodSafety.gov, meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, soft cheeses, shredded cheeses, and milk should all be tossed if their temperature reaches 40°F, or above, for more than two hours. Similarly, open creamy dressings, biscuits, cookie dough, cooked pasta, potatoes, and rice also need to be thrown away at this temperature and time limit. Fresh-cut fruit and vegetables, as well as cooked vegetables, should also go in the garbage.

How Long Does Food Last in the Freezer Without Power?

When it comes to your freezer, many items, including meat, poultry, seafood, milk, ice cream, some cheeses, and frozen meals, should be tossed if their temperature is higher than 40°F for more than two hours. However, some things can be refrozen if they have retained ice crystals or the temperature feels as cold as if they've been in the fridge. For a detailed list of what to do with specific fridge and freezer foods, head over to the FoodSafety.gov website.

Although it's not ideal to lose power, and it's a big bummer to have to throw out food, it's far better to be safe than sorry. You don't want yourself or your family to get sick eating something that's gone bad.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What condiments are safe to use after a power outage?

    Condiments that contain acids, (like ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, barbeque sauce, steak sauce, hot sauce, Worcestershire, chutney, and vinegar-based dressings) should be okay to use. Jellies, jams, and syrups are also okay because the sugar in them acts as a preservative. You will want to toss any opened mayonnaise, tarter sauce, creamy dressings, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and spaghetti sauce. 

  • Can I keep my food safe by storing it outdoors?

    When the temperatures dip, it is tempting to use outdoor spaces as an extension of the refrigerator or freezer, but the USDA recommends against it as temperatures can fluctuate throughout the day and cause food to spoil. You also run the risk of exposing your food to unsanitary conditions and the attention of curious, hungry animals.

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