What to Do When the Power Goes Out




Storms and bad weather can cause power outages. How do you keep food safe in the refrigerator and freezer? The following information will help you decide what to do.

Be Prepared

  • If you live in an area where power loss is a problem, you must be prepared.
  • Find out where to buy block ice and dry ice.
  • Keep canned goods and shelf stable foods on hand.
  • Buy a cooler. Buy freezer packs and keep them frozen.
  • Make an emergency plan with friends in a nearby area.

Refrigerated Food

When the power goes out, check the time. It is important to know how long your power has been out. Food in the refrigerator will stay safe for a few hours. Opening the refrigerator door lets cold air out and warm air in. Do not open and close the door to check food.

Even if the food looks and smells fine, it may not be safe to eat. Bacteria that causes food poisoning does not make food look any different. It will not smell bad or look funny. If the food has been warm, above 40 degrees, for more than two hours throw it away. Do not taste the food to see if it is still good.

If there is space in the freezer, transfer as much food as possible to the freezer. Use block ice in the refrigerator. Place the ice on a tray or pan in the refrigerator. The ice will help to keep the refrigerator cool for about a day.


Frozen Food

Food in the refrigerator/freezer will stay frozen for about a day. Food in a freestanding freezer will stay frozen longer. A full freezer will keep food frozen for about two days. A half-full freezer for about one day. Food will stay frozen longer if the door is not constantly opened and closed.

If your freezer is not full, rearrange it. Group all the frozen packages together. Separate meat from fruits and vegetables. The packages will stay frozen longer if there is no air space between them. Use crumpled newspaper to fill in the spaces. Use dry ice in the freezer. Cover the entire freezer with blankets.

Be careful when handling dry ice. Use gloves; do not let it touch bare skin. It will cause severe skin damage. Do not inhale the fumes. A 25 pound block of dry ice will keep food frozen for days. A full 10-cubic freezer should hold for three to four days.

Thawed fruits and vegetables can be refrozen. Raw meat that still has some ice crystals can be refrozen. Meat that is still cold can be refrozen too. It may suffer some quality loss, but it is safe to eat. Discard any cooked food that has come in contact with raw meat juices.

Use the attached chart to judge what to keep or discard. Remember, when in doubt throw it out.

Written by: Drusilla Banks, Nutrition and Wellness Extension Educator, University of Illinois Extension
Edited by Katherine J. Reuter, Consumer and Family Education, Countryside Extension Center.


Refrigerator Food – Power Outages

Dairy Food still cold at 40°F
or above for under 2 hours
Held above 40°F
for over 2 hours
Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt Safe Discard
Butter, margarine Safe Safe
Baby formula, opened Safe Discard
Eggs, fresh, Hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes Safe Discard
Custard and puddings Safe Discard
Hard cheeses, processed cheeses Safe Safe
Soft cheeses, cottage cheese Safe Discard
Meat, Poultry, Seafood
Fresh or leftover meat, poultry, fish Safe Discard
Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, egg salad Safe Discard
Gravy, stuffing Safe Discard
Lunchmeats, hotdogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef Safe Discard
Pizza – meat topped Safe Discard
Canned meats (Not labeled “Keep Refrigerated”) Safe Discard
Canned hams labeled “Keep Refrigerated” Safe Discard
Thawing meat or poultry Safe Discard if warmer than refrigerator temperatures.
Casseroles, soups, stews Safe Discard
Fruit juices, opened Safe Discard
Canned fruits, opened Safe Discard
Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates Safe Safe
Vegetables cooked, vegetable juice, opened Safe Discard after 6 hours.
Baked potatoes Safe Discard
Fresh mushrooms, herbs and spice Safe Safe
Garlic, chopped in oil or butter Safe Discard
Pies, Pastry
Pasteries, cream filled Safe Discard
Pies – custard, cheese filled or chiffons Safe Discard
Pies, fruit Safe Discard
Bread, Cakes, Cookies, Pasta
Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads Safe Safe
Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough Safe Discard
Cooked pasta, spaghetti Safe Discard
Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinegar base Safe Discard
Sauces, Spreads, Jams
Mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish Safe Discard if above 50°F for over 8 hours.
Peanut butter Safe Safe

Frozen Food – When to Save and When to Throw Out

Dairy Still contains ice crystals and
feels as cold as if refrigerated
Thawed. Held above
40°F for over 2 hours.
Milk Refreeze Discard
Eggs (out of shell) and egg products Refreeze Discard
Ice cream, frozen yogurt Discard Discard
Soft and semi-soft cheeses (cream cheese, ricotta) Refreeze. May lose some texture. Discard
Hard cheeses (cheddar, swiss, parmesan) Refreeze Refreeze
Casseroles containing milk, cream cheese, soft cheeses Refreeze Discard
Cheesecake Refreeze Discard
Meat, Poultry, Seafood
Beef, veal, lamb, pork, ground meats Refreeze Discard
Poultry, ground poultry Refreeze Discard
Variety meats (liver, kidney, heart, chitterlings) Refreeze Discard
Casseroles, stews, soups, convenience foods, pizza Refreeze Discard
Fish, shellfish, breaded seafood products Refreeze. However there will be some texture and flavor loss. Discard
Juices Refreeze Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell or sliminess develops.
Home or commercially packaged Refreeze. Will change in texture and flavor. Same as above
Juices Refreeze Discard after held above 40OF for 6 hours.
Home or commercially packaged or blanched Refreeze. May suffer texture and flavor loss. Same as above
Breads, Pastries
Breads, rolls, muffins, cakes with custard fillings Refreeze Refreeze
Cakes, pies, pastries with custard or cheese fillings Refreeze Discard
Pie crusts Refreeze Refreeze
Commercial and homemade bread dough Refreeze. Some quality loss may occur. Refreeze. Considerable quality loss
Casseroles – pasta or rice based Refreeze Discard
Flour, cornmeal, nuts Refreeze Refreeze