Saving Food in a Power Outage

Preventing Spoiled Food When the Lights Go Out

Saving Food in a Power Outage always begs a number of questions:  How long can I keep the food in my refrigerator?  How do I know when something has gone bad?  What's safe for me and my family to eat?

With major storms like Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina and many other such incidents on the horizon, the time to know what to do when the lights go out is, now.

So, what follows below are a number of general rules depending on the type of food you're dealing with.  From frozen meats to milk to fresh vegetables, etc., we'll try to provide as much advice as we can.

That said, the one thing to keep in mind however, is to always USE YOUR BEST JUDGEMENT.   If it smells bad, or simply looks bad, play it safe and throw it away.  It's not worth your health or your family's health and well being to save a $5 package of deli meats.

Okay, let's get started...

Saving Food in a Power Outage:
What to do When the Power First Goes Out

  • MARK THE TIME:  Once you know you have a power outage, make sure to try to get a rough idea of the TIME the power went out.

    Because the very SECOND the refrigerator stops working, the clock on your food's lifespan begins ticking immediately.

    You'll want to have a rough idea of just HOW LONG the power has been out so you know whether ANY of your food is salvageable.

  • YOU HAVE FOUR HOURS -- Any power outage lasting more than four hours is usually the benchmark for when your food items will start to turn and become unsafe.  Again, this is NOT a hard fast rule.

    It depends on how cold or warm the interior of your home is, and how much food/ice was in your refrigerator/freezer prior to the power going out (a fuller fridge/freezer usually has a bit of a longer life-span). 

    But, if rules of thumb are your thing, use the four hour window to measure how likely it is that you'll have to ditch your food.

  • DON'T OPEN THE REFRIGERATOR DOOR:  If possible, try to avoid opening the refrigerator door for as long as possible.

    The longer the cold air stays trapped inside your refrigerator, the better chance your food has to make it through.   There are some EXCEPTIONS here (e.g., you need access to food, or medicine, etc.).

    If you must open the refrigerator or freezer door, just be sure you take what you need and quickly close it back up.

  • UNPLUG THE REFRIGERATOR:  If it's easy to access, try to unplug your refrigerator.  When the power comes back on, there is some risk of a surge racing through your system which might negatively impact the inner mechanics of your refrigerator.

    That said, there have been many advancements in controlling these issues.  But, better safe than sorry.  So, if you can reach it with relative ease, unplug it.

Saving Food in a Power Outage: Power's Back On...Now What?

  • HOW MUCH TIME ELAPSED?  Depending on how much time elapsed from the moment your lights went out to when they came back on will be the first determining factor for what stays and what goes. 

    TIP!:  One of the BEST resources we've found regarding what to throw out and when can be found via the government's website on Food Safety.  Here is the Food Safety at a Glance Chart that itemizes common food items and will help to determine whether these items are safe to keep or not.

  • DON'T TEST IT BY TRYING IT!!!  This should seem obvious, but when saving food in a power outage, under no circumstances should you TRY something to see if it's still good.  You can't rely on appearance or odor alone to determine the amount of harmful bacteria that may or may not be living on the surface of spoiled food.

  • DETERMINE FUNCTIONALITY:  The power might be back on, but is the refrigerator working properly?  A few minutes after the power has come back on, be sure your refrigerator is pumping out cold air.  In some cases, the interior mechanics of a refrigerator can be put out of whack during an outage.

Saving Food in a Power Outage:
Have to Buy a New Fridge?  You're in the Perfect Place!

Okay, so say your refrigerator is fried, flooded, burned, or blown into the neighbor's yard.  You need a NEW one.

So, here are some resources for you to consider to help you find the right refrigerator for you!

Refrigerator Reviews:  This is a comprehensive list of all of our refrigerator reviews.  From Compact Refrigerators, to French Door, to Wine Refrigerators, we have reviews on EVERYTHING.

Top 10 Refrigerators:  Want to just cut to the chase?  Well, our Top 10 List has identified some of the top refrigerator models available anywhere since 2006!  Make sure you bookmark this page as we update it often.

Best Refrigerator Brands:  Need help narrowing down the choices in the best brands?  This page will help you navigate the waters of which brand is tops with both our analysts and consumers just like you.

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