Keep Food Safe When the Power Goes Out

By Abby Berry

Severe winds, lightning and even squirrels can temporarily cause the power to go out.

Your electric cooperative understands power outages of any length can be frustrating, especially when your fridge is stocked with perishable foods.

Extended power outages are rare, but when they occur, it’s important to understand food safety measures to take to avoid illness. Here are a few tips to keep in mind before, during and after a power outage.

Before an Outage

A good rule of thumb is to keep an emergency supply kit on hand. Include nonperishable food items such as bottled water, powdered milk, canned goods, cereal and protein bars.

If you have advance warning that an outage is possible, fill a cooler with ice in case the outage spans several hours. Having a cooler ready to go can buy extra time for your refrigerated, perishable items.

During an Outage

If an outage occurs, do not open the refrigerator or freezer unless absolutely necessary.

An unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours.

A half-full freezer will keep food frozen for about 24 hours and a full freezer for about 48 hours.

If it looks like the power outage will last longer than 4 hours, move perishable items to an ice-filled cooler.

After an Outage

If refrigerated foods have been exposed to temperatures higher than 40 degrees for more than 2 hours, the American Red Cross recommends discarding the items. If any foods have an unusual color, odor or texture, they should be thrown away.

While most perishable foods should be thrown out after an extended outage, there are a few items that are safe to consume after a 2-hour exposure to 40+ degrees:

  • Hard cheeses that are properly wrapped
  • Butter or margarine that is properly wrapped
  • Taco, barbecue and soy sauces
  • Peanut butter, jelly, mustard, ketchup and relish

The best way to avoid illness from spoiled food during or after an outage is to follow the 4-hour rule of thumb.

After an outage, always smell and inspect foods before consuming. Remember: When in doubt, throw it out.

To learn more about food safety after an emergency, visit’s page on Food Safety.