Food Safety When the Power Goes Out

When the power goes out, inconvenience is just beginning for homeowners who need light, air-conditioning, television, and other appliances to keep their household running. Especially critical is keeping refrigerated and frozen food at the right temperature to ensure safe eating. Residential refrigerators and stand-alone freezers are typically stocked with a variety of food, from frozen meats and entrees, to school lunch supplies, to seasonal produce and time-sensitive dairy products.

In the event of a hurricane, or other natural disasters that result in wide-spread long-term power outages, how long will your food stay safe?

Perishables — meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products — need to be refrigerated at or below 40 degrees F and frozen food at or below zero degrees F.

In the case of a power outage, food can be safely cold for about four hours if the refrigerator remains unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.

Foods that can be refrigerated/refrozen safely after being held about 40 degrees for more than two hours include: hard cheeses, butter or margarine, peanut butter, jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives, pickles, opened vinegar-based dressings, bread, rolls, cakes without icing, muffins, quick breads, tortillas, and bagels.

If the freezer is closed, food may stay frozen at least a day or more depending on several factors, including the quantity of insulation, the size of the freezer, type of foods in the freezer, how the food is packed, and how full the freezer is. Typically, a full freezer stays cold longer than a half-full one, a freezer filled with meat stays cold longer than a freezer filled with baked goods, a well-insulated freezer keeps food frozen longer than one with little insulation, and the larger the freezer, the longer food stays frozen. Purchasing a freezer thermometer is recommended.

A portable generator can be a valuable tool to keep food cold, lights on, and appliances running during a power outage. A 7,000-watt model, for example, can power the refrigerator, pump, air conditioner, lights, and TV all at the same time.

To view portable generators, visit