For How Long Is Food Good After a Power Outage?

Written by emily jarvis
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For How Long Is Food Good After a Power Outage?
Refrigerated and frozen foods generally stay safe for up to two hours. (Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Power outages can be frustrating and inconvenient, but they can also become downright hazardous when it comes to the contents of your refrigerator. Cold and frozen food must be kept below 4.44 degrees Celsius to remain safe for consumption, and there are ways to test your food's safety. Following a few food safety guidelines can determine what is salvageable, but keep in mind this adage: when in doubt, throw it out.

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Refrigerated Foods

Food is generally safe at room temperature for up to two hours. Some foods are more susceptible to spoilage, particularly meats and dairy products like mayonnaise. During a power outage, the refrigerator door should remain closed as much as possible to retain cold air. Food kept in a closed refrigerator should stay good for up to four hours of lost power.

Frozen Foods

During a power outage, frozen food may begin to thaw. The best way to determine if the food is safe is to keep a thermometer in the freezer. As long as the contents do not exceed 4.44 degrees Celsius, they should be safe to eat or refreeze. Most freezers will retain cold air for up to two hours of lost power if they are kept closed. The fuller the freezer, the longer it will stay cold.

Checking Food Safety

Never taste foods to determine spoilage. Smell is also an unreliable indicator. The best way to test foods is to measure their temperature. Perishable and frozen items should not exceed 4.44 degrees Celsius. If the power has been out for more than two hours, automatically discard all meats, poultry and seafood, all cheeses except for hard and processed varieties, all dairy and eggs except for butter, all cut fresh fruits, and any cooked leftovers. Pastries made with dairy and all cream-based sauces should be thrown away as well. The USDA lists complete food safety guidelines on its website.

Emergency Preparedness

Every household should have an emergency preparedness plan with a food contingency, particularly in areas affected by storms or floods. Always stock non-perishable foodstuffs to prepare for long-term power outages. Canned and boxed goods can be heated in pans on outdoor grills. Always keep foods at or below 4.44 degrees C. Filling coolers with dry ice or freezer packs is a good way to keep foods cold. Finally, keep thermometers in the freezer and refrigerator at all times to monitor food safety.

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