Power's Out: How Long Will Your Food Be Good? 13 Tips for Staying Safe

There are things you can do before and after losing power that can ensure your food doesn't spoil.

With people in the dark for days after a first storm and a second nor’easter knocking out power to tens of thousands more, the question is what to do with the food in your refrigerator and freezer.

What should you keep and what should you toss? And, how can you be prepared just in case?

Here are 13 tips from the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture on what you can do before the power goes out and after (if you lose electricity) to ensure you don’t eat potentially dangerous spoiled food:

Before the power goes out:

  1. Make sure you have appliance thermometers (digital quick-response thermometers) in your refrigerator and freezer or at the ready. (The freezer temp should be at or below zero. The refrigerator should be at 40 degrees or below.)
  2. Freeze refrigerated items you may not need right away like leftovers, milk, fresh meat and poultry.
  3. Be sure to bunch food together in the freezer so that it stays colder longer.
  4. Have coolers on hand. The cheap Styrofoam ones can work in a pinch.
  5. Purchase or make ice cubes or freeze blocks of water ahead of time. If the power goes out these will help keep the food cold. You can also melt the ice if you lose access to clean water.
  6. Speaking of clean water, have a supply of bottled water on hand, preferably on a shelf or counter in case of flooding. Have one gallon of water per person per day for up to three days on hand, according to
  7. Stock up on ready-to-eat foods that don’t require cooking or refrigeration.
[[365958951, C]] After the power goes out:
  1. Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep the items inside cold.
    - The fridge will keep items cold for about four hours.
    - A full freezer will remain cold for about 48 hours.
  2. If you are in a pinch, always know the closest supplier of dry or block ice. Dry ice can help save your food, keeping a full freezer cold for up to 48 hours.
  3. You can always use those coolers you have on hand (or go buy some) where you can keep tightly packed food.
  4. Check each food item independently for unusual odor, color or texture. If anything seems odd, or the food feels warm, throw it away. NEVER taste food to see if it’s safe.
  5. Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 degrees or below. If any frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs were exposed to 40 degrees of higher for two hours or more toss it.
  6. When in doubt, throw it out.

The USDA has charts for determining when to save or toss refrigerated and frozen foods.

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