Snow, sleet, ice, and wind can wreak havoc on our every day lives. Winter! It’s a fact of modern life: sometimes the power goes out.

If your power goes out, knowing how to keep food safe can help minimize the loss of food and reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

I have put together some helpful power outage guidelines from USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline to help you Be Food Safe if your power goes out.

Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed

— A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if the door is kept closed.

— A full freezer will keep temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full). If your freezer is not full, group packages so they form an “igloo” to protect each other. Place them to one side or on a tray so that if they begin thawing, their juices won’t get on other foods.

— If the power is going to be out for an extended period of time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

Don’t place frozen foods outside in the snow

If your power is out due to a snowstorm, the sun’s rays can thaw frozen food even when the temperature is very cold. In addition, animals could discover your stash. Instead, take advantage of the cold temperatures by making ice outside. Fill buckets, empty milk cartons, or cans with clean water and leave them outside to freeze. Then put the “homemade ice” in your refrigerator, freezer, or coolers.

Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer

The key to determining the safety of food in the refrigerator and freezer lies in knowing how cold they are. An appliance thermometer will take away the guesswork of just how cold the unit is.

What to do when the power returns

When the power comes back on, you will have to evaluate each item separately. When in doubt, throw it out. These charts help you evaluate specific foods:

Refrigerated Foods: When to Save, When to Throw Out

Frozen Food: When to Save, When to Throw Out

With frozen food, check for ice crystals! The food in your freezer that partially or completely thaws may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 °F or below.

Discard any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture, or feels warm to the touch.

Never taste a food to determine its safety!

For more information about food safety in an emergency, check out these resources:

In an Emergency (

Power Outages: Key Tips for Consumers (FDA)

If you have any other questions, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at (English and Spanish).


Reprinted from a Feb. 7, 2011 post on by Diane Van, Manager, USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline.

(Cross-posted from the USDA Blog)