Food safety when the power goes out: Summer edition

refrigerator_interior_temp_blogIt could be a perfectly sunshine-y day or it could be a torrential downpour when the power goes out. The power can go out for a variety of different reasons—and for differing lengths of time depending on the reason—but when it does, you need to be able to spring into action. Knowing where flashlights and candles are is always a good first step, but what do you do with the food that’s stored in your refrigerator and freezer, especially in the summer when it can be sweltering out?

Don’t panic

Some power outages last only a brief amount of time, in which case, most of your food should be safe. As long as the power is out no more than four hours, your food should be safe. However, you should keep the door shut as much as possible and to discard any perishable food that has been above 40°F for more than two hours. A full freezer will hold its temperature for approximately 48 hours (a half-full freezer will keep for about 24 hours) if the door remains closed.

Food Safety.gov has a list of individual items for you to determine if it could be kept or discarded if kept above 40°F for more than two hours, which can be found here.

Use ice for longer periods

If the power is predicted to be out for a longer period of time, the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) suggests using dry ice or block ice to keep the refrigerator cool as long as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice will keep an 18-cubic foot full freezer cold for approximately two days.

Coolers also are suitable, using frozen gel packs with items close together can help the food stay colder longer.

And if that doesn’t work…

Emergencies can happen that even a 50-pound block of ice can’t solve. Keeping shelf-stable food, boxed food, and bottled beverages such as water and milk on hand are useful in such cases. However, remember these items need to be replaced from time to time as well.

Store food a few inches or feet off the ground, if possible. Food on or near the floor may come into contact with flood waters in severe emergencies, which can contaminate food. Immediately discard any food not in waterproof containers that may have come into contact with flood waters—this includes items with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, crimped caps, cardboard boxes or any item showing damage.

What emergency items do I need?

  • A can opener for some shelf-stable products
  • Location where to buy block or dry ice
  • Cooler(s) that can store freezer items
  • Frozen gel packs with which to pack the cooler
  • Unscented liquid chlorine bleach
  • A digital quick-response thermometer to test temperatures of refrigerator and freezer
  • Shelf-stable foods and water

When the power returns, what happens?

First, discard any perishable food that has been kept at a temperature above 40°F for more than two hours. Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer.

Check each food item separately, discarding any food that has an unusual odor, color, texture or feels warm to the touch. Never taste food to determine its safety—when in doubt, throw it out.

For frozen food items, check for ice crystals. Food in your freezer that is partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at or below 40°F.

For more information on what to do during a power outage, visit any one of these websites:

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