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Keeping Food Safe During a Power Outage

by Lindsey Sexton - February 10, 2023

No matter the cause, a power outage is never convenient. When refrigerators and freezers lose power, we worry about whether the food will be safe for our families. Knowing how to handle food while the power is off and when it has been restored will help ensure that you and your family do not end up with a foodborne illness.

Should I open the refrigerator or freezer when the power goes out?

Nope! Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed to maintain their cold temperatures. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if it is unopened.

What should I do if my power will be out for a long time?

If you anticipate a lengthy outage (longer than 4 hours), transfer perishable foods into a cooler with frozen gel packs, ice packs, or a block of ice. You could also buy dry ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Using coolers to transport food to a working refrigerator or freezer, if available elsewhere is another option.

How long will food stay frozen during a power outage?

A full freezer will keep its temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed. For longer outages, fifty pounds of dry ice should keep an 18-cubic foot fully stocked freezer cold for 2 days.

I have an infant. How do I keep infant formula safe during a power outage?

For infants on formula, use single-serving ready-to-feed nursettes if possible. Then discard any formula that is left in the bottle within 1 hour of finishing the feeding.

If you use powdered formula and do not have access to a working refrigerator, prepare a fresh mixture for every feeding. Follow all label directions using a safe water source and only mix the amount needed for 1 feeding.

If your infant is under 3 months old, premature, or has other health conditions, check with your doctor before using powdered formula. For more information related to your specific situation, search CDC recommendations at using the term "formula."


I already opened the refrigerator or freezer. What do I do now?

It can be hard to remember to leave the refrigerator or freezer door closed during a power outage. If you've already opened one of them or both, it's time to take action. As soon as you can, transfer perishable foods into a cooler with frozen gel packs, ice packs, a block of ice, or dry ice. Or use coolers to transport food to a working refrigerator or freezer, if available elsewhere.

Is it safe to eat food from a refrigerator or freezer after the power comes back on?

If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs AND it has been held at safe temperatures during a power outage, it's important that each item is thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to assure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present is destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40°F for 2 hours or more, discard it. Especially, if the food smells odd once it is opened or thawed - When in Doubt, Throw It Out!

For more info on food safety during power outages, check out our news story.