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

By Jennifer Aldrich
Updated May 14, 2021
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Whether it's from a fallen powerline, a powerful storm, or a pesky critter, when the power goes out, it's important to take care of a number of essential tasks. One of those 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.

woman reaching in refrigerator
Credit: monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

What to Check Before the Power Goes Out

In advance of a potential emergency, such as a natural disaster making its way to your region, make sure both your refrigerator and freezer have appliance thermometers ($6, Amazon). 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 to go for cooling food when the power is out.

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, 48 hours in a full freezer, and 24 hours in a half freezer. You can put refrigerated food in a cooler with ice packs (with the temperature kept at 40°F or below) if the power outage lasts longer than four hours.

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. Meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, soft cheeses, shredded cheeses, and milk should all be tossed if their temperature is at 40°F or above for more than two hours, according to FoodSafety.gov. Similarly, open creamy dressings, biscuits, cookie dough, 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 ice crystals or the temperature feels cold like 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 much better to be safe than sorry. You don't want yourself or your family to eat something that's gone bad and could cause you to get sick.

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