Fridge Food Safety During a Power Outage: What to Know

Jun 26, 2024 | Eating Well

Share this story now

We all have that same concern during hurricane season or any severe weather event: What happens if the power goes out? 

A prolonged power outage — especially during hot summer days — can cause health concerns for our families and loved ones. It can also lead to safety issues when it comes to the food stored in the refrigerator or freezer. 

Prepare Before a Storm 

Just as you should put together an emergency preparedness kit and plan for you and your family during storm season, you should also prep your refrigerator and freezer to keep food safe and usable. 

  • Put appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer. The refrigerator should be at or below 40 degrees, and the freezer at or below zero. 
  • Have a full ice cube tray ready to go in the freezer and make room elsewhere in the freezer to freeze containers of water. Should the power go out, distribute those containers in the refrigerator and the freezer to prolong cold temperatures. HELPFUL TIP: As those containers thaw, the fresh water can be used for drinking should your normal water source become contaminated.  
  • The freezer will keep items at a safe temperature longer, so go through your refrigerated items and determine which ones you might not need immediately that can be stored away in the freezer for later (things like leftovers, raw meat and even milk). 
  • Arrange items so they are grouped close together to stay colder longer. HELPFUL TIP: The freezer will stay colder longer if it’s full, so don’t be afraid to use as much space as possible. 
  • Keep ice chests and coolers on hand as backup to store refrigerated items on ice in case the power is out for more than four hours. 

When the Power Goes Out 

  • If left unopened, the refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours, the freezer for up to two days if it’s full. Limit the number of times you open them. 
  • If you plan to eat anything from the refrigerator while it’s still at a safe temperature, heat it to a safe minimum internal temperature before eating. HELPFUL TIP: Use a dial or digital thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat. Beef, pork and seafood should be at 145 degrees, ground meat at 160 degrees, poultry at 165 degrees, and leftovers and casseroles at 165 degrees. 
  • If perishable food has been kept out at room temperature for more than two hours, throw it away. If the air temperature gets above 90 degrees, perishable food kept out of the refrigerator can go bad in an hour. 

When the Power Comes Back 

  • Immediately check the thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer.  
  • For the freezer: If the temperature remained at 40 degrees or below, food is safe and can be refrozen. If you don’t have a thermometer, inspect each package to see if ice crystals remain — a good sign that it is safe to cook or refreeze. 
  • For the refrigerator: If the power returned in less than four hours and the doors were kept shut, food should be safe if it stayed below 45 degrees. Discard any perishable items that sat in the refrigerator for more than four hours or got above 45 degrees during a power outage. HELPFUL TIP: Perishable items that remained safe during a power outage should be cooked and eaten as soon as you can. 

This information comes from the Food & Drug Administration, which has more tips for food and water safety during a power outage. Stay informed with local news and weather stations to track approaching storms and know when it’s time to start prepping your refrigerator to keep food safe and healthy.

Speak with your doctor to address any health-related hurricane preparation tasks unique to your needs. If you need a doctor, find one here.

Get our articles delivered straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like…