Power Out? A Guide to Refrigerator Safety When You Don’t Have Electricity

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Major storms tore through the eastern half of the United States on Friday, and millions of people went without electricity all weekend. Were you one of them? If so, do you have power back now, or are you getting cool and catching up with your blog reading at a cafe or the office? Between these freak storms and hurricane season, it seemed like a good time to reacquaint ourselves with basic fridge safety protocol. Here is what you should know, in case your fridge and freezer lose their juice.

Refrigerator Safety: The Essentials

Here are the basics of fridge safety, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

If the power is out for less than 2 hours, then the food in your refrigerator and freezer will be safe to consume. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep food cold for longer.

If the power is out for longer than 2 hours, follow the guidelines below:

• For the Freezer section: A freezer that is half full will hold food safely for up to 24 hours. A full freezer will hold food safely for 48 hours. Do not open the freezer door if you can avoid it.

• For the Refrigerated section: Pack milk, other dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, gravy, and spoilable leftovers into a cooler surrounded by ice. Inexpensive Styrofoam coolers are fine for this purpose.

• Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of your food right before you cook or eat it. Throw away any food that has a temperature of more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

– Source: What You Need to Know When the Power Goes Out Unexpectedly

The magic number there? 2 hours. Yep, after two hours, either transfer the stuff in your fridge to a cooler or a working refrigerator. Don’t mess with spoiled food; it’s not worth getting sick.

What To Throw Away and What To Keep

OK, so your fridge has been without power and above 40°F for more than 2 hours. Is anything safe to keep?

Yes, some condiments and foods are OK to keep, although meat and most dairy need to go. Here’s a very helpful and handy list from FoodSafety.gov on what to keep and what to toss:

More resources for fridge safety and disaster preparedness:
Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency – USDA
Are Any Condiments Safe to Keep After a Power Outage?
• Cooking in a Hurricane? 5 Tips for Staying Safe & Well-Fed
• Hurricane Irene and What We Ate: Observations from NYC

What about you? Did you lose power, or did you escape the storm?