Food safety tips for after a prolonged power outage

By the time you read this, if you've been without power on Thursday morning and weren't able to connect your refrigerator or freezer to a generator, the perishable food inside likely has spoiled.

By the time you read this, if you’ve been without power on Thursday morning and weren’t able to connect your refrigerator or freezer to a generator, the perishable food inside likely has spoiled.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that a refrigerator will keep food at a safe temperature for only about four hours without power. A full freezer will hold the temperature for about 48 hours after the power goes off (24 hours if it is half full).

The No. 1 safety tip from the USDA for deciding what to keep and what to toss is never taste food to determine its safety - when in doubt, throw it out.

Here are some more tips from the USDA:



Discard the following if your refrigerator has been without power for more than 4 hours:

  • raw, cooked, or leftover meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and egg substitutes
  • casseroles, soups, stews, and pizza
  • mixed salads (i.e., chicken, tuna, macaroni, potato)
  • gravy and stuffing;
  • milk, cream, yogurt, sour cream, and soft cheeses
  • cut fruits and vegetables (fresh);
  • cooked vegetables
  • fruit and vegetable juices (opened)
  • creamy-based salad dressing
  • batters and doughs (i.e., pancake batter, cookie dough)
  • custard, chiffon, or cheese pies
  • cream-filled pastries
  • garlic stored in oil.
  • Discard opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce and horseradish if they were held above 50°F for more than 8 hours.
  • Discard any foods that may have become contaminated by juices dripping from raw meat, poultry, or fish.
  • In general, if any food has an unusual odor, color, or texture, throw it out.

The following foods may be safe after a power outage:

  • High-acid foods such as mustard, ketchup, relishes, pickles, non-creamy salad dressings, jams and jellies generally will be safe to eat - though they may spoil sooner.
  • whole fruits and vegetables (fresh)
  • fruit and vegetable juices (unopened)
  • baked goods such as fruit pies, bread, rolls, muffins, and cakes (except those with cream cheese frosting or cream fillings)
  • hard and processed cheeses;
  • butter and margarine
  • fresh herbs and spices


The following foods may be safe after a power outage:

  • Frozen foods that have partly thawed, but still contain ice crystals.
  • Foods that have remained at refrigerator temperatures - 40°F or below. They may be safely refrozen, but their quality may suffer.
  • Foods that were frozen - but don't require freezing, such as bread and baked goods.


  • Dispose of any spoiled or questionable food.
  • Remove shelves, crispers, and ice trays. Wash them thoroughly with hot water and detergent. Rinse with a sanitizing solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
  • Wash the interior of the refrigerator and freezer, including the door and gaskets, with hot water and baking soda. Rinse with a sanitizing solution.
  • Leave the door open for about 15 minutes.
  • Repeat if needed.

If odor remains, try any or all of the following:

  • Wipe the inside of the unit with equal parts vinegar and water to destroy mildew.
  • Leave the door open and allow to air out for several days.
  • Stuff the refrigerator and freezer with rolled newspapers. Keep the door closed for several days. Remove the newspaper and clean with vinegar and water.
  • Sprinkle fresh coffee grounds or baking soda loosely in a large, shallow container in the bottom of the unit.
  • Use a commercial product available at hardware and houseware stores. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Find more information at .

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