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Food Safety When Electricity Goes Off

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Updated January 29, 2014

Refrigerator door left open.

Foods will stay cool for at least two hours if you don't open that refrigerator door.

Tim and Annettte

Emergencies can strike quickly, so it's good to be prepared with food and water that you can store without power. You also need to know what to do with food that's still in the refrigerator while the power's out.

Be ready in the case of weather-related or other emergencies. Here's what to do if your electricity goes out:

  • Leave the freezer door shut. Your food will remain safe for up to 48 hours. The more frozen food in your freezer, the longer it will stay frozen, or at least cold.
  • Keep your refrigerator door shut too. Food in the fridge will be safe for at least two hours if you don't open and close the doors. After that it will have to be moved to a cooler with ice.
  • Store coolers where you can easily find them. Make sure you have two or three so you have plenty of room for food and ice.
  • Stash bags of ice cubes in your freezer. If the electricity is out for more than three or four hours, transfer your refrigerated food into the coolers and pack them with lots of ice.
  • Keep different size plastic containers with tight-fitting lids on hand. You don't want to put your uncooked meats next to your cooked foods or raw produce in the coolers. Keep them separated with individual containers.

Perishable food shouldn't be kept above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours, otherwise, the food may begin to spoil and bacterial growth will start. Throw out any perishable foods that have gone without refrigeration for too long so you don't risk any food-borne illness.

If weather-related power outages are common where you live, think about investing in a gas-powered generator so you can at least keep the refrigerator and freezer going, as well as other necessary electronic devices.

Sources:

American Red Cross. "Food Safety." Accessed April 19, 2011. http://www.redcross.org/services/disaster/0,1082,0_564_,00.html.

United States Department of Agriculture. "Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency." Emergency Preparedness. Updated September 2006.

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