Tips on food safety during power outages

A few times a week or before you go grocery shopping, scan your fridge for what's about to go bad and pull those items to the front. Make a plan to use them soon in a meal.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – We’ve probably all been there before. 

The power goes out during a hurricane. Your refrigerator and freezer are packed full of perishables. An extended power outage means that food is thawing or getting warmer. You open the doors to check and it doesn't feel as cool. What food is still safe to eat? What needs to be tossed out? It's a common question. 

The worst possible thing to do about checking on food during a power outage is checking on food during a power outage. Opening the freezer and refrigerator during an extended power outage lets those cold temperatures escape. 

The Red Cross, the FDA and many other organizations offer the same suggestions. Keep the doors closed as much as possible. 

“The possibility is that some people continue to lose power during a storm,” said Christian Smith of Red Cross. “Make a list of everything in the refrigerator and freezer. Keep the freezer shut. It stays colder in there a lot longer. Part of that list you make is what’s in there. Don’t open [the door] until you’re ready.”

A full freezer that is not opened will keep that temperature for roughly 48 hours, according to the Red Cross. An unopened refrigerator will maintain cold temperatures for four hours. The Red Cross also suggests having additional coolers and ice on hand to help keep perishables chilled if power outages last more than a day. 

Even if you’ve followed the protocol and gone through your list on the food in your freezer and refrigerator and still have questions, Smith said it’s simple. 

“When in doubt, throw it out,” she said. 

Keep food as safe as possible 

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. 
  • First use perishable food from the refrigerator. 
  • An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for about 4 hours. Then use food from the freezer. 
  •  A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.  
  • Move some of your items to your freezer to keep it at a safe temperature longer.
  • If it looks like the power outage will continue beyond a day, prepare a cooler with ice for your freezer items.  
  • Keep food in a dry, cool spot and keep it covered at all times.
  • Use your non-perishable foods and staples after using food from the refrigerator and freezer. 

Help Preserve Your Food

  • One or more coolers—Inexpensive Styrofoam coolers work well. 
  • Ice—Surrounding your food with ice in a cooler or in the refrigerator will keep food colder for a longer period of time. 
  • Freeze bottles of water to keep your food frozen longer.
  • Group all your frozen food together to stay colder longer.
  • A digital quick-response thermometer— With these thermometers you can quickly check the internal temperatures of food to ensure they are cold enough to use safely.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.