What’s the first thing you think about when the power goes out? Lights? Wi-fi? Heat or air conditioning? Many people have a general idea of how to handle power outages. We keep batteries, phone chargers, flashlights, and candles on hand. But what about your refrigerator? How long can food last when the power goes out for hours, or even days?
It goes without saying, if an item is in your refrigerator, it’s because it needs to be kept cold. Meat, eggs, and dairy products need to be kept at 40 degrees or below to prevent spoilage. Items in the freezer should be kept below zero degrees. Refrigerators can usually hold these temperatures for about 4 hours after the power goes out as long as you don’t open the doors. Freezers are good for 48 hours if full, 24 if half full. Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals, or remains below 40 degrees. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service offers advice on what to throw out after the four hours are up:
- Raw, cooked, or leftover meat, poultry, and fish. This includes lunchmeat and hot dogs.
- Eggs or egg substitutes
- Leftovers like casseroles, stews, soups, pizza, and cooked vegetables
- Fruit juices that have been opened
- Dairy products like milk, sour cream, yogurt, and soft cheeses
- Cream pies and cream filled pastries
- Creamy salad dressings
- Cookie dough
It may be tempting, but DO NOT STORE FOOD OUTSIDE. The USDA says that outside temperatures are inconsistent, causing chilled food to enter the “danger zone” of warmer than 40°F, allowing bacteria to grow, and frozen food could begin thawing. Food kept outside also could be exposed to animals and unsanitary conditions. However, as a last resort, you may be able to store food in a cooler in an unheated garage or other place where it won’t be disturbed by animals. It’s imperative that you have a thermometer and monitor it to make sure the food remains consistently below 40 degrees. What you can also do is bring in chunks of ice from outside in put in your refrigerator, freezer, or cooler. It’s important to have it inside some sort of wrapping or container to keep it from leaking if it thaws, and carefully monitor the temperature, making sure it stays below 40 degrees. And always remember, if in doubt, throw it out.