Winter storms often bring power outages. When you lose power, how long does the food in your refrigerator stay safe?
If you keep the doors closed, your refrigerator can keep food at a safe temperature for about 4 hours. After that, most perishable foods will need to be thrown away, especially meat, poultry, fish and dairy products.
If the outage is going to last more than a few hours, you can keep food safe a little longer by putting it in a cooler with ice packs.
Food in your freezer will stay safe for about 24 hours if the freezer is half full and for about 48 hours if it is completely full, as long as you keep the door closed. If the food starts to thaw, but still has ice crystals in it, it can be safely refrozen. This can hurt the quality of some food, but it will be safe to eat. If the food has thawed all the way, with no ice crystals, it will likely need to be thrown out.
In general, food needs to be kept below 40 degrees to be safe to eat. Food that is held above 40 degrees for 2 hours or more enters the “danger zone,” where food poisoning can happen. One way you can prepare for power outages is to keep appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer. This can make it easy to tell if the temperature stayed in the safe zone, below 40 degrees.
Whenever you’re in doubt, throw it out.
For more detailed information on what to keep and what to throw out, see the USDA’s Food Safety Q&A for Emergencies.
If you have questions about food safety during a power outage, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 or chat online.