Food Safety in a Power Outage

It is almost Spring and we all know what that means. No, not flowers, storms! And with severe spring weather come power outages. So when the power goes out exactly how long until your food starts to spoil? Is that milk still safe to drink? What about those frozen steaks, do you really have to throw them out? Here are a few guidelines to help you know what to keep and what to toss.

The first (and most important) thing to remember is that a power outage is not the time to stand there with the fridge open trying to decide what you want to eat. Keep those doors closed! A refrigerator will keep cold for about 4 hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will last about 48 hours and a freezer that is half-full will keep temperature for about 24 hours. If the power is going to be out longer than this you will need to consider bringing in bagged, block or dry ice to keep your appliances and food as cold as possible.

Once the power returns you will want to check the temperature of your fridge and freezers. Discard any perishable items that have been above 40° for more than 2 hours. Check each item individually. Throw out anything with an unusual odor, color, or texture, or anything that feels warm. If you aren’t sure just throw it out. Do not taste anything to determine if it is good!

When it comes to frozen food there are a couple ways to tell if it is still good. Even if the item is partially or completely thawed it can be safely consumed or even refrozen if it contains ice crystals or is 40° or below. has put together two great charts for determining what to discard and what is safe to keep:

Refrigerated Foods

Food Categories Specific Foods Held above 40 °F for over 2 hours
MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes Discard
Thawing meat or poultry Discard
Salads: Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, or egg salad Discard
Gravy, stuffing, broth Discard
Lunch meats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef Discard
Pizza – with any topping Discard
Canned hams labeled “Keep Refrigerated” Discard
Canned meats and fish, opened Discard
Casseroles, soups, stews Discard
CHEESE Soft Cheeses: blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco Discard
Hard Cheeses: Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano Safe
Processed Cheeses Safe
Shredded Cheeses Discard
Low-fat Cheeses Discard
Grated Parmesan, Romano, or combination (in can or jar) Safe
DAIRY Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk Discard
Butter, margarine Safe
Baby formula, opened Discard
EGGS Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products Discard
Custards and puddings, quiche Discard
FRUITS Fresh fruits, cut Discard
Fruit juices, opened Safe
Canned fruits, opened Safe
Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates Safe
SAUCES, SPREADS, JAMS Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish Discard if above 50 °F for over 8 hrs.
Peanut butter Safe
Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, pickles Safe
Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, hoisin sauces Safe
Fish sauces, oyster sauce Discard
Opened vinegar-based dressings Safe
Opened creamy-based dressings Discard
Spaghetti sauce, opened jar Discard
BREAD, CAKES, COOKIES, PASTA, GRAINS Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas Safe
Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough Discard
Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes Discard
Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette Discard
Fresh pasta Discard
Cheesecake Discard
Breakfast foods –waffles, pancakes, bagels Safe
PIES, PASTRY Pastries, cream filled Discard
Pies – custard, cheese filled, or chiffon; quiche Discard
Pies, fruit Safe
VEGETABLES Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices Safe
Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged Discard
Vegetables, raw Safe
Vegetables, cooked; tofu Discard
Vegetable juice, opened Discard
Baked potatoes Discard
Commercial garlic in oil Discard
Potato salad Discard
Casseroles, soups, stews Discard

Frozen Foods

Food Categories Specific Foods Still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated Thawed and held above 40 °F for over 2 hours
MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD Beef, veal, lamb, pork, and ground meats Refreeze Discard
Poultry and ground poultry Refreeze Discard
Variety meats (liver, kidney, heart, chitterlings) Refreeze Discard
Casseroles, stews, soups Refreeze Discard
Fish, shellfish, breaded seafood products Refreeze. However, there will be some texture and flavor loss. Discard
DAIRY Milk Refreeze. May lose some texture. Discard
Eggs (out of shell) and egg products Refreeze Discard
Ice cream, frozen yogurt Discard Discard
Cheese (soft and semi-soft) Refreeze. May lose some texture. Discard
Hard cheeses Refreeze Refreeze
Shredded cheeses Refreeze Discard
Casseroles containing milk, cream, eggs, soft cheeses Refreeze Discard
Cheesecake Refreeze Discard
FRUITS Juices Refreeze Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops.
Home or commercially packaged Refreeze. Will change texture and flavor. Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops.
VEGETABLES Juices Refreeze Discard after held above 40 °F for 6 hours.
Home or commercially packaged or blanched Refreeze. May suffer texture and flavor loss. Discard after held above 40 °F for 6 hours.
BREADS, PASTRIES Breads, rolls, muffins, cakes (without custard fillings) Refreeze Refreeze
Cakes, pies, pastries with custard or cheese filling Refreeze Discard
Pie crusts, commercial and homemade bread dough Refreeze. Some quality loss may occur. Refreeze. Quality loss is considerable.
OTHER Casseroles – pasta, rice based Refreeze Discard
Flour, cornmeal, nuts Refreeze Refreeze
Breakfast items –waffles, pancakes, bagels Refreeze Refreeze
Frozen meal, entree, specialty items (pizza, sausage and biscuit, meat pie, convenience foods) Refreeze Discard

Additional posts related to this subject:

Storm Preparedness – Lessons to learn when the lights go out.

Food Storage: The Why

Food Storage: The How

Food Storage: The What and Where

Food Storage: Resources

What is the longest power outage you have been through? Were you able to save any of your perishable foods? Share your experience in the comments!


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5 Responses to Food Safety in a Power Outage

  1. Those are some really useful facts.. I never knew what types of food could be kept or discarded if there happens to be an electrical failure or outage. Thanks for the post.

  2. Lou Lou says:

    Well you seem to be prepared! I don’t live in any storm threatening area but I thought it was good info to have, especially where food preparation is concerned. You never know when the electricity might go out or the next time I plan on accidently leaving the fridge door slightly open. Yep. It’s happened!

    • Britni says:

      We are in the Midwest so we have to prepare for almost anything. In the last 5 years we’ve had tornadoes, blizzards, ice storms, straight line winds, a hurricane (Ike 2008) and even an earthquake!

  3. Pingback: Saving money for the serious prepper - a blog and a book! « DFW Preppers and Survivors

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