It’s one I wondered about myself last winter when our power was out for almost 24 hours because of a particularly bad snow and ice storm.
Whether you lose electricity because of bad weather, a utility company error, or something else altogether, the thought of losing an entire refrigerator’s worth of perishable food is none too pleasant.
First and foremost, when your power goes out do not open the fridge or freezer if you can help it. The temperature in an unopened refrigerator will stay cold enough that your foods will be OK for a couple of hours. And a freezer that is full can—if it’s not opened—stay cold for as long as 48 hours. (And even if it’s only half full, everything should stay frozen for up to a day.)
(By the way, in order to have something to eat when the power is out, it’s a good idea to always make sure you have food in the pantry that doesn’t require refrigeration and that can be eaten cold or grilled.)
According to The American Red Cross, perishable food should not be held above 40 degrees for more than 2 hours. If the power outage is short, your food is probably fine. But if it’s out for longer than 2 hours, you’ll need to take action.
If you can obtain ice, pack your food away in coolers until the power is back on. If that’s not an option, you’ll have to hope the power comes back on soon enough that your food is safe—or fire up the grill when you find out it’s going to be a while and start cooking!
Once the power does come back on, if it hasn’t been longer than 4 hours, use a quick-response thermometer to check the internal temperature of food such as milk, meat, and leftovers—if it’s above 40 degrees, you better toss it. Some items are safe at temperatures over 40 degrees, including fruit, butter, peanut butter, raw vegetables, cheeses, and catsup. For a list of other items that are probably OK after a power outage, visit MissouriFamilies.org.
If the power comes back on within 24–48 hours it’s likely your frozen food is safe. But it’s a good idea to double-check, because if items near the door have started to thaw out you may need to throw them out. When examining food, MissouriFamilies.org recommends checking for ice crystals. If the food (aside from seafood) still contains ice crystals, refreeze it as quickly as possible and write “refrozen” on it so you know to eat those items as soon as possible.
If the food has thawed and you don’t see any ice crystals, it’s time to throw it away.
The American Red Cross offers some terrific, specific information about what to do with perishable items, including a detailed chart broken down by food type. So be sure to visit their website.
And remember: When in doubt, throw it out.
The Home Know-It-All