How Long Does Food Keep in a Fridge or Freezer During a Power Outage?

by Rowan Guthrie
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Sooo … the power went out. It likely wasn’t the first thing you thought of, but seeing as you’re here, the thought did eventually cross your mind: How long does food keep in the fridge or freezer during a power outage?

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Knowing the answer could keep you from getting a nasty case of food poisoning on top of being without power. You don't want to toss perfectly good food, but eating things that have spoiled could cause foodborne illnesses.

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How Long Can Food Last in the Fridge in a Power Outage?

So, how long does food keep in a fridge during a power outage? The general guideline is that perishable foods in the fridge can last up to four hours during a power outage. This includes things like meat, poultry, leftovers, fish, eggs and many dairy products. After four hours in a powerless fridge or being held at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for more than two hours, it's safest to toss the food. Hard and processed cheeses, butter, margarine, most fruits, some vegetables and some condiments are safe to keep even if the power outage lasts longer than four hours.

How Long Will Freezer Food Last Without Power?

How long does food keep after a power outage in the freezer? The freezer is a different story when it comes to power outage food safety. If the freezer is full, the food should remain at a safe temperature for about 48 hours. If it's only half full, the safety period shrinks to about 24 hours, assuming you keep the door closed. For food safety purposes, any food from the freezer that you keep should still have ice crystals or stay at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Those items can be safely refrozen.

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Should You Throw Out Condiments After a Power Outage?

When considering power outage food safety, condiments can vary. Some condiments can be retained safely, even after an extended power outage. This includes:

  • Jelly
  • Relish
  • Taco sauce
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Vinegar-based dressings
  • Olives
  • Pickles

Other open condiments in the fridge should be tossed after the four-hour mark. Those items include:

  • Mayonnaise
  • Tartar sauce
  • Horseradish
  • Fish sauce
  • Oyster sauce
  • Creamy dressings
  • Spaghetti sauce

How Do You Keep Food From Spoiling in a Power Outage?

There are ways to help keep your food safer during a power outage. Follow these power outage food safety tips:

  • Monitor the temperature: Having a thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer helps you gauge if the food is safe or not. If it goes above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more, the perishable food is no longer good. 
  • Fill the freezer: A full freezer keeps the food safe for longer. Adding jugs of water or bags of ice to fill in empty freezer spaces can help. You can also move food from the refrigerator to the freezer to fill the space. 
  • Put items together: Bunching your frozen items together at the bottom of the freezer instead of having them spread out can help them stay colder for longer. 
  • Move food to coolers: If you have access to insulated coolers and ice or gel packs, moving perishable items can keep them below 40 degrees to make them last longer. You can also use dry ice to keep things colder for longer. 
  • Keep the doors closed: Every time you open the door, the temperature inside increases more and you'll reduce how much time you have to store the food safely. Avoid the temptation to check on the food or the temperature inside while you're waiting for the power to come back on. 
  • Store food indoors: It might be tempting to put your food outdoors if you lose power in the winter, but fluctuating temperatures and potentially unsanitary conditions could make the food unsafe. 

When the power comes back on, check the thermometers to see if the temperature passed the safe zone. Toss perishable items that can't be saved.

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