When the Power's Out, How Long is Your Food Safe?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

We interrupt your regularly scheduled dailySpark blog programming to bring you an important announcement about… food safety.

Thanks to Ike and his aftermath, many of us are staring into fridges, freezers and deep freezes, sniffing various unrecognizable food stuffs and wondering whether we should save food or pitch it.

I did a little research about power outages, floods and food safety. Here's what I found, mostly from the USDA and Red Cross:

In case of a power outage:
  • Don't taste food to see if it's safe. Instead, examine each food item separately.
  • Food can be refrozen if the food still contains ice crystals or is at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
  • Always keep meat, poultry, fish, and eggs refrigerated at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and frozen food at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
  • The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
  • Use dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time.

In case of a flood:
  • Don't eat any food that could have come into contact with flood water.

  • Remove labels if possible; they can harbor dirt and bacteria.
  • Thoroughly wash cans or pouches, using water that is safe for drinking.
  • Sanitize the cans and pouches by either placing them in boiling water for two minutes or
  • Place in water and allow the water to come to a boil and continue boiling for 2 minutes or placing them in a bleach solution (1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available) for 15 minutes.
  • Air-dry cans or pouches for a minimum of 1 hour before opening or storing.
  • Be sure to relabel cans and pouches using a permanent marker.
  • Use those cans and pouches as soon as possible.
  • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. (That includes foods with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps.) Discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes and home canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water, because they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.
  • Discard any damaged cans. Check for swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener.

For more information, visit USDA or Red Cross websites.

Have a tip for saving food or keeping it safe? Do you have a power outage/food loss horror story? Share it in the comments below.

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  • 29
    this was nice to know.......Place in water and allow the water to come to a boil and continue boiling for 2 minutes or placing them in a bleach solution (1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available) for 15 minutes. you learn something everyday..
    thanks for the info. - 9/20/2008   1:27:03 AM
  • 28
    Good to know this information. I really like the ice cube comment to see the shape to tell how long power has been out and how cool it got in the freezer. Thanks for the tips. - 9/18/2008   12:25:48 PM
  • 27
    The best tip I read is to keep a bag or container of ice cubes--you can tell from the shape of them how long the power was out if it happened to come back on before you came back (in case of evacuation). If the cubes completely melted...throw everything away!!! - 9/17/2008   3:03:21 PM
    They are telling us 24-48 hours here in NE Ohio is OK for food but I just don't know how cold our fridge was. Power was off Sunday night at 6 PM-1:30 AM today Wednesday. Hubby's ice packs for his lunch last night about 7 PM were still frozen he said. Should I go check for ice crystals now or would it be too late? And what could I save? We didn't think the projected 50 MPH winds was that big a deal as nothing like this happened before but then it was 78 MPH and that was too much. Hubby used to live in FL and their power never went out in hurricanes he said. It is rough to be out of food, water, electric and phone even for a day. We went out for fast foods, and ate fresh and canned fruit, peanut butter and chips and had to go buy water to take meds. Hope others in the path of the hurricane get their power on back soon and are safe. - 9/17/2008   12:10:01 PM
  • 25
    This is great information. We were 48 hours without electricity and I spent a couple hours yesterday cleaning out the fridge. Although it hurts to throw out food, my fridge hasn't been this clean in years :) - 9/17/2008   9:37:50 AM
  • 24
    Our power went out, was out for about 24 hours, but the things in the fridge were still cold. I threw the milk out anyway but I am wondering if the salad dressings and margarine are still viable. Anyone know if you can keep those if they still feel chilled to the touch when the power came back on? ke3iu@hotmail.com - 9/16/2008   3:49:02 PM
  • 23
    Good info. Thank you very much! - 9/16/2008   3:19:31 PM
    Thank you for the information. I actually referred to this article due to the power being knocked out by Ike. I'll print this one out and share. - 9/16/2008   2:29:47 PM
  • 21
    Very timely - due to high winds, we've been without power since Sunday afternoon and don't know when it'll come back on. We cooked a few things on the grill last night and gave the rest away. - 9/16/2008   10:23:24 AM
  • 20
    Good info! Thank you. - 9/16/2008   9:24:39 AM
  • 19
    I live in Texas and I am going to get involved collecting food. During Hurricane Rita & Katrina, I did the same thing. If you live near the coast give to your food banks - they distribute food to the victims. Help everyone they need us!!! Great article. - 9/16/2008   7:17:45 AM
  • 18
    I live in Florida... this is very applicable. - 9/16/2008   7:11:07 AM
  • 17
    Thanks for the information.

    My solution will be just throw everything away and clean the ref.

    Buy fresh food items. - 9/16/2008   12:35:54 AM
    I believe very strongly in purchasing a generator. We would have been lost if my Father-In-Law didn't have one durning Katrina. We grow & freeze most of our veggies, and hunt for meat. We were without power for a week and would have lost all of our food if it weren't for his generator. - 9/16/2008   12:28:23 AM
  • 15
    During Hurricane Alicia in Houston, we didn't have much damage, but had no power for about two weeks.

    On the fourth day of no power, we blocked off our cul-de-sac, brought out our grills and had a "Block Dinner".

    One of our neighbors had a generator and we moved two freezers to his garage to keep two freezers full frozen, and we had a "Block Dinner" every night for about 10 days - then it was buy enough for that day until we had power back.

    10-12 days of having dinner every night with your neighbors and their families really fused the neighbors together.

    In many ways it was like living "back in the old days". Adults didn't hesitate to correct the behavior of children not their own - and to pass the info on to the parents.

    Also, any "strange car" driving on our street had people out in the yards - just looking. It probably looked like a scene from "Night of the Living Dead" or something.

    The point is - think out of the box and share the food, don't just throw it away. - 9/16/2008   12:08:51 AM
    I was so glad to see this important information, as I wasn't sure how long you could keep food, after power outage. Mine was out for 12 hours, and so glad to have it back on. - 9/15/2008   11:08:17 PM
  • 13
    thank you 4 the info was surprised about how lonh things would last - 9/15/2008   7:52:02 PM
  • 12
    . We were without power for 24 hours yesterday and there are still several thousands in the area that power hasn't been restored yet.

    Thanks for the info, it will come in handy in case it happens again. - 9/15/2008   7:23:36 PM
  • 11
    Good information I always though it was longer - 9/15/2008   7:14:26 PM
    Thanks, Margie! So... I just realized that most people who could use this info probably can't access it! Power outage=no Internet! Ha! I have no power at home, but thankfully, a local coffee shop does (and so does the dailySpark office)!
    I spent all summer gathering local, organic produce from the farmers market. I spent less $$ than I would have at the supermarket, and I was able to portion blueberries, fresh tomatoes and other veggies for my boyfriend and I. Our freezer was, until yesterday, full of freshly roasted peppers, oven-roasted tomatoes, berries picked by me, and wild Alaskan salmon than went on sale just last week... then the power went out. Thankfully, a friend offered her freezer. My food is safe. Hope yours is, too. - 9/15/2008   6:36:43 PM
  • 9
    Oh Yes, Why to go!! Steph!
    This info has been thoroughly practiced here!
    Hope and Encouragement goes out to those hard hit by this season’s wind-monsters. I think positive thoughts as power is still out and home does not exist to thousands in many areas. Getting food hot or cold is always a challenge in the early weeks of disaster aftermath. Please think of them and help if you can. My heart goes out to you and yours for think of us after Katrina.
    The 4 hour rule does prevent gut pain from bad food in humans and animals. All commercial kitchens must practice this every day and we should too.
    I must eat gluten-free; getting Gluten-Free MRE’s (meals-ready-to-eat) do not exist, yet!
    We live just blocks from the beach in Mississippi and remain in storm ready status.
    Since Ike is a last name in my family we get teased.
    Our recent order of a Dairy Queen Ice Cream cake read: OH NO THE BIG 5-0! THIS IS GOING TO MAKE THE BURNING OF ATLANTA LOOK LIKE A BONFIRE!
    The pick- up person was an “Ike”, the clerks thought this cake was for a hurricane party and Hurricane Ike was the theme, not my 50th birthday! They assumed a fire-storm; one that would to rival the Civil War Yankee horror of THE BURNING OF ATLANA would result.
    Steph, Thanks for the food tips.
    - 9/15/2008   6:17:26 PM
    The power was out up here for HOURS yesterday! Ike just ripped up stuff all over the Cincinnati/ Dayton area! Thanks for the info :) - 9/15/2008   5:34:37 PM
  • 7
    I generally shut off my upright freezer during the summer hurricane season. That way I use up my stored/frozen meats within a reasonable time frame. And my fridge freezer is completely full, helping it to stay cold longer in case of power outage. - 9/15/2008   4:11:07 PM
  • 6


    After having the power come back on after being off for 24 hours this article couldn't have come with better timing. Thanks!! - 9/15/2008   3:01:04 PM
  • 5
    love the article good information. - 9/15/2008   1:32:30 PM
  • 4
    Being 15yr resident of South Florida I have learned after going through Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and being without power for over 2 weeks to not "stockpile" to much food in the freezer during hurricane season. If we get word that a hurricane maybe coming in our direction I will usually freeze some gallon jugs of water (that I took a cup or so of the water out of) and then if the power does go out I can put those frozen water jugs in the refrigerator and it helps to keep things cold just a little longer. My heart goes out to the folks in Texas. I know how devastating this is. - 9/15/2008   12:17:38 PM
  • 3
    A tip for frequent travellers - keep a sandwich bag of ice in your freezer. If it changed shape when you return from a trip, it's a good indicator to check your food. - 9/15/2008   12:15:09 PM
  • 2
    This is an awesome article! - 9/15/2008   12:14:10 PM
  • 1
    Great information! - 9/15/2008   11:51:41 AM

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