Power Outage Food Safety
Keep Refrigerator Food Safe During a Power Outage
A refrigerator will keep food safe for about 4 hours without any power. In order to ensure safety during this time, the refrigerator door must be kept as closed as possible during the entire time. Remember that all foods requiring refrigeration should not be stored above 40°F for more than 2 hours. 
Following are recommendations for what to do if the power is shut off for an extended amount of time.
- The first thing to do is call the local power company (if it’s not an already scheduled outage). Most utilities have a line that can be called where, with an address or account number, there is a recording which announces the expected time that power should be restored. If the timeframe is longer than the four hours that a refrigerator can safely keep food, then other measures should be considered.
- If you have a cooler and the power is expected to be off for more than four hours, and the freezer contains ice and/or ice packs, then quickly pull some out and use them to store the most critical of food items in the cooler. The most critical food items can be determined from the table below, or in some cases it might just be the most expensive items that are most desirable to save, and in other cases it might be the items that you will be constantly reaching for so that the refrigerator door can remain closed. In any case, try to determine these items before opening the refrigerator door to avoid standing in front of an open fridge and allowing all the cold air to escape while thinking.
- Next, fill the freezer with ice and proceed to fill the cooler with everything that made the list. Leave the other items in the fridge until the power is restored.
Once the power is restored, go through the refrigerator and either use or trash any items from this list that are considered questionable. Do NOT taste any questionable items. Remember, when in doubt… throw it out! Finally, head to the freezer while referring to the next section of this post to determine the safety of frozen food items.
|Food||Keep or Toss|
|Raw Meats, Poultry, or Seafood||TOSS|
|Leftover Meats, Poultry or Seafood||TOSS|
|Deli Meats, Hot Dogs, Bacon, Sausage||TOSS|
|Opened Canned Meats or Seafood||TOSS|
|Tofu, Soy Products||TOSS|
|Salads containing meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and/or mayonnaise||TOSS|
|Gravy, Stuffing, Broth||TOSS|
|Leftovers, Casseroles, Soups, Stews, Pizza||TOSS|
EXCEPT: Keep canned or jarred Grated Parmesan, and/or Romano cheeses.
|Milk, Cream, Buttermilk, Opened Evaporated milk, Eggnog, Soy milk||TOSS|
|Sour Cream, Cottage Cheese, Ricotta||TOSS|
|Eggs: fresh, hard boiled, processed, quiche||TOSS|
|Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, Cut||Eat or TOSS|
|Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, Un-cut (whole)||KEEP|
|Packaged Greens (pre-cut, pre-washed)||TOSS|
|Mayonnaise – Opened or used in any dip, sauce, dressing or salad||TOSS|
|Creamy Salad Dressings – Opened||TOSS|
|Vinegar Based Salad Dressings – Opened||KEEP|
|Jelly, Jam, Relish, Taco sauce, Mustard, Catsup, Olives, Pickles, Worcestershire sauce, Soy sauce, Barbecue sauce, Hoisin sauce||KEEP|
|Fish sauces, Oyster sauces||TOSS|
|Spaghetti Sauce – Opened||TOSS|
|Cooked Pasta, Rice, Potatoes||TOSS|
|Bread, Rolls, Cookies, Pies*, Pastries*, Cakes*, Muffins, Tortillas||KEEP, *if there is NO custard or cheese filling involved.
If any of these fillings are involved, then TOSS.
Fruit pies can be kept, but custard or cheese pies (including Cheesecake) should be tossed.
|Refrigerator Biscuits, Rolls, Cookie Dough||TOSS|
|Garlic in oil||TOSS|
|Dried or Candied Fruits||KEEP|
|Baby Formula – opened||TOSS|
|Adult Nutrition – opened||TOSS|
Power Outage Food Safety
Keep Freezer Food Safe During a Power Outage
A full freezer, again if the door is kept tightly closed, will keep its contents safe for about 48 hours. However, if the freezer is only half full then the contents can only be fully trusted for about 24 hours. If the freezer is still at 40°F or below and/or ice crystals are still visible on food items, the food may be safely refrozen, although the quality may suffer (depending on the food). Do NOT taste any foods that may be in question, they are not worth the risk! 
If items are still frozen, then things are cool (pun intended). If anything has begun to defrost, then move those items to the refrigerator and use them as quickly as possible. This generally means in the next day or two… so, if you can’t use them quickly then it is better to toss them at this point. But, if they have completely defrosted, then proteins will need to be cooked immediately and used immediately or else they should just be tossed immediately for safety reasons.
If power will be out for an extended amount of time a block of dry ice can be used to keep product, if available.
|Food||Still cold (contains ice crystals or feels as if refrigerated)||Thawed and held above 40°F for more than 2 hours|
|Meat, Poultry, Seafood – all types||Refreeze||TOSS|
|Frozen Meals: Casseroles, Pizza, Meat pies, Sandwiches, Stews, Soups||Refreeze||TOSS|
|Leftovers: Casseroles (including pasta & rice based), Soups, Stews, Pizza||Refreeze||TOSS|
|Breakfast items: Bagels, Waffles, Pancakes||Refreeze||Refreeze|
|Flours, Grains, Cornmeal, Nuts, Coffee||Refreeze||Refreeze – since these products don’t need to be frozen in the first place, there’s no harm done|
|Breads, Roll, Pastries*, Cakes*, Cookies, Pies*||Refreeze||Can be refrozen with possible quality loss.
*NOTE: These can be refrozen if there is NO custard or cheese filling involved. If these fillings are involved, then TOSS.
|Pie Crusts and Bread Doughs||Refreeze, with some quality loss||These can be refrozen, but will for sure experience considerable quality loss.|
|Ice cream, Frozen Yogurt, Gelato, Sherbert||Enjoy an immediate milkshake or TOSS||TOSS|
|Cheese, soft or shredded||Refreeze, but may experience loss of texture and/or quality||TOSS|
|Cheese, hard||Refreeze||Refreeze, but may experience loss of texture and/or quality|
|Fruits and Fruit Juices||Refreeze, but may experience loss of texture and/or quality||Can be refrozen, BUT discard if any mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops|
|Milk||Refreeze, but may experience loss of texture and/or quality||TOSS|
|Vegetables and Vegetable Juices||Refreeze, but may experience loss of texture and/or quality||TOSS, but can be held above 40°F for 6 hours|
NOTE: Any food items that have been refrozen should be used before new items that are placed into the freezer, so move them to the front when new items are frozen.
Power Outage Food Safety
For information on thawing foods, see our safe thawing methods post.
Get more information on refreezing fish before deciding to do so.
To find out which condiments actually need refrigeration see our condiment refrigeration page.
Another occasion to consider what foods are left in the fridge and freezer is when leaving on vacation.