Keeping it Fresh: How long is food still good after a power outage?
Whether a rat knocked out your freezer plug (that was actually the subject of the last phone call I received at my job), or the wrath of a hurricane leaves you powerless, situations arise where the electricity supply to your freezer or refrigerator can be unexpectedly cut off. When the power is restored, what food can you save, and what do you have to toss?
How long is the food in the freezer or fridge safe after the power goes out?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)(1), your refrigerator will keep food safe for up to 4 hours during a power outage. Keep the door closed as much as possible. Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry (turkey or chicken), eggs, and leftovers after 4 hours without power.
What about the freezer?
Better news than the fridge! A full freezer will hold a safe temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full and the door remains closed).
Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40°F or below. If you have a thermometer, you can check the the individual foods. However, even if it is at 40°F or below, the food’s quality may suffer.
Never taste food, whether it be from the fridge or the freezer to determine its safety.
So, can all my BOGO (buy one, get one free) tenderloin steaks be saved?
If the steak has ice crystals and feels cold as if refrigerated (or if it is at 40°F or below), you can refreeze it.
If it is thawed and held above 40°F for more than 2 hours, discard it.
What about my Ben and Jerry’s ice cream?
Ice cream and frozen yogurt are exceptions. Even if it has ice crystals and feels cold like it has been refrigerated, the USDA says to discard it. I did some investigating; why is this the exception? It sure would be nice to eat some ice cream after cleaning out the fridge and freezer.
The problem with ice cream is that its quality will be very poor when refrozen (2). It loses the creamy texture because the air that is whipped into it when churned will be gone. Also, the ice crystals can cause the ice cream to become grainy and have an unpleasant texture.
In summary, ice cream might be something you don’t want to stock up on during hurricane season. On the positive side, my wallet and cholesterol level will benefit.
For other specific foods, check out this chart from the USDA: https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/food-safety-during-power-outage
What if you aren’t sure if you can keep it?
When it doubt, throw it out.
- https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/cfs/cfs-422-w.pdf and https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/HYG-5357