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When the Power Is Out

Bacteria that cause foodborne illness multiply rapidly on food kept at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Do not rely on the appearance or odor to determine if the food is safe. This guide tells you how long food stays cold when the power goes off to help you decide what to salvage and what to discard. See also "When power is restored."

Refrigerator

Food in a refrigerator is generally safe if the power is out for less than 4 to 6 hours. The length of time that the food will be safe depends on:

  1. How cold the refrigerator was when the power went off. The colder the refrigerator, the longer the food will stay cold.
  2. How warm the room is. The colder the room, the longer the refrigerator will stay cold.
  3. How often the refrigerator door is opened, especially if the room is warm. Keep the door closed as much as possible.
  4. Placing a block of ice on a pan in the refrigerator helps keep the temperature low and extends the time food will be safe.

Discard the following perishable foods if kept above refrigerator temperature (40°F) for more than 2 hours:

  • raw or cooked meat, poultry or seafood
  • milk/cream, yogurt, soft cheese
  • cooked pasta, pasta salads
  • custard, chiffon, or cheese pies
  • fresh eggs, egg substitutes
  • meat or cheese-topped pizza, luncheon meats
  • casseroles, stews, soups
  • tartar sauce and creamy dressings
  • refrigerated cookie dough
  • cream-filled pastries

The items listed below are generally safe without refrigeration for a few days. These foods lose quality and spoil more rapidly at room temperature than when cold. So double-check each food and throw it out if it turns moldy or has an unusual look or odor.

  • butter, margarine
  • fresh fruits and vegetables
  • dried fruits
  • opened jars of peanut butter, jelly, relish, taco sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard, oil-based salad dressings, commercial mayonnaise, olives
  • fruit juices
  • hard and processed cheeses
  • baked products, except those noted above

Freezer

Food in a freezer will stay cold longer than in the refrigerator. With the door closed, items in most freezers stay frozen for 24 to 48 hours, even in the summer. How long the food stays frozen depends on:

  1. The amount of food in the freezer -- Food in a full freezer will stay frozen for at least 2 days. Items in a half-loaded freezer may not stay frozen for more than a day.
  2. The kind of food -- A full freezer of meat will stay colder than a freezer full of baked goods.
  3. The temperature of the food -- The colder the food, the longer the food will stay frozen.
  4. The size of the freezer -- The larger the freezer, the longer the food stays frozen.

Power Outage Procedures

  1. Keep the freezer door closed. This is the most important step you can take to keep the food from defrosting. Opening the door greatly reduces the time food stays frozen without power.
  2. Add dry ice to the freezer. The more dry ice, the longer the food will stay frozen. If dry ice is placed in the freezer soon after the power goes off, 50 pounds added to a 20 cubic-foot cabinet should keep the temperature of food below freezing for 3 to 4 days in a fully loaded freezer and 2 to 3 days in a cabinet with half a load or less. Twenty-five pounds of dry ice should hold the temperature of a half-full 10 cubic foot cabinet below freezing for 2 to 3 days. (Note - Place dry ice on thick cardboard or boards on top of the frozen food or on shelves, not directly on packages. Always wear gloves when handling dry ice. Never touch dry ice with hands. Be sure room is well ventilated. Do not breathe the carbon dioxide gas from the dry ice.)
  3. Move food to another low-temperature storage space. If the trouble is a breakdown of your freezer, your neighbors may have enough space to hold your food.
  4. Place blankets, quilts, or some other covering over the freezer for extra insulation. Do not block the air-vent opening.

Foods held above refrigerator temperatures (40°F) for more than two hours may not be safe to eat. Discard these items. You may safely refreeze most foods if they still contain ice crystals, or if they have been kept cold (40°F or less) and have been thawed no more than 24 to 48 hours.

Know the condition of the food before refreezing it!

Most people's immediate reaction is to get the food refrozen immediately.

When the power returns, immediately check the temperature and condition of the food before it refreezes. Otherwise, you will not be able to tell if the food is safe for refreezing.

Throw out any food on which juices from raw meat, poultry, fish or shellfish has dripped. Foods for discarding include cooked meat, poultry, fish or shellfish; fruits; vegetables; and baked goods. Be especially careful with any items that are not thoroughly heated before eating.

Use the following guidelines for completely thawed foods.

  • Fruits (such as strawberries, peaches, apples) - Refreeze if they smell good. If the  item is beginning to ferment, it is still safe to eat although the flavor will be  changed. Use these items in cooking.
  • Vegetables - Refreeze or cook and serve thawed vegetables immediately.  Considerable loss in quality will occur.
  • Meat and poultry - Look at each package separately. If item still has ice crystals or  has not been thawed for more than 48 hours (assuming it has not been held above 40°F), refreeze or thoroughly cook and refreeze. Otherwise, discard. Exception: Discard any stuffed poultry or meats.
  • Fish and shellfish (such as shrimp, crabs, or lobster) - These items are extremely  perishable. Discard unless ice crystals remain.
  • Baked goods (such as breads, cookies and cakes) - Refreeze.
  • Nuts - Refreeze.
  • Ice cream - Do not use or refreeze melted ice cream.

Refreeze food quickly. Mark on the package of food that it has been refrozen. This will permit you to know which foods to carefully examine for any off-odors or color before preparing.

If your freezer has an adjustable temperature control, turn it to the coldest position. The freezer will run continuously and the food will freeze quicker.

Place warmer packages against freezer surface if possible. Make sure that air can circulate around the packages of food. After the food is frozen, turn the temperature control to its normal setting.

When using any food that has been refrozen, check the appearance and odor of the product. Although the overall quality of refrozen products may be poorer than the original food, there should be no off-odors or colors.

Remember, for any food if in doubt, throw it out!

Refrigerator Food:  When To Save* - When to Throw It Out

Held above 40°F

more than 2 hrs

Dairy

Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt

Butter, margarine

Baby Formula, opened

 

Discard

Safe

Discard

Eggs

Eggs, Fresh

Hard-cooked in shell

Egg dishes, custards and puddings

 

Discard

Discard

Discard

Cheese

Hard cheeses, processed cheeses

Soft cheeses, cottage cheese

 

Safe

Discard

Fruits

Fruit juices, opened

Canned fruits, opened

Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates

Fresh fruits, cut

 

Safe

Safe

Safe

Discard

Vegetables

Vegetables, cooked

Vegetable juice, opened

Baked potatoes

Fresh mushrooms, herbs and spices

Garlic, chopped in oil or butter

 

Discard

Discard

Discard

Safe

Discard

Meat, Poultry, Seafood

Fresh or leftover meat, poultry, fish or seafood

Thawing meat or poultry

Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, egg salad

Gravy, stuffing

Lunchmeats, hotdogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef

Pizza – meat topped

Canned meats (NOT labeled “Keep Refrigerated) but

refrigerated after opening

Canned hams labeled “Keep Refrigerated”

Casseroles, soups, stews

Discard all
Pies, Pastry

Pastries, cream filled

Pies – custard, cheese filled or chiffons

Pies, fruit

 

Discard

Discard

Safe

Bread, Cakes, Cookies, Pasta

Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads

Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough

Cooked pasta, spaghetti

Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinegar base

 

Safe

Discard

Discard

Discard

Sauces, Spreads, Jams

Mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish

Peanut butter

Opened salad dressing, jelly, relish, taco and barbeque sauce,

mustard, catsup, olives (*All food still cold, held at 40°F or above under 2 hours is considered safe.)

 

Discard after 8 hours

Safe

Safe

Frozen Food – When to Save – When to Throw It Out

Contains ice crystals;
as cold as if refrigerated
Thawed and held
above 40 degrees F for
over 2 hours
Meat, Poultry, Seafood

Beef, veal, lamb, pork and ground meats

Poultry and ground poultry

Variety meats (liver, kidney, heart, chitterlings)

Casseroles, stews, soups,

Convenience foods, pizza

Fish, shellfish, breaded

Breaded seafood products

Refreeze

Refreeze

Refreeze

Refreeze

Refreeze, some texture and flavor loss

Discard all
Dairy

Milk

Eggs (out of shell) and Egg products

Ice Cream, Frozen yogurt

Cheese (soft and semi-soft), cream cheese, ricotta

Hard cheeses (cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan)

Casseroles containing milk, cream, eggs, soft cheeses

Cheesecake

 

Refreeze. Some texture loss.

Refreeze

Discard

Refreeze, some texture loss

Refreeze

Refreeze

Freeze

Discard all, but can refreeze the hard cheeses
Fruits

Juices

Fruits

 

Refreeze

Refreeze, texture will change

 

Refreeze, discard if mold, yeasty smell or
slimy

Refeeeze

Vegetables

Juices

Whole or cut

 

Refreeze

Refreeze, texture will change

 

Discard

Discard

Breads, Pastries

Breads, rolls, muffins, cakes
(without custard fillings)

Cakes, pies, pastries with
custard or cheese filling

Pie crusts

Commercial and homemade

 

Refreeze

Refreeze

Refreeze

Refreeze, some quality loss

 

Refreeze

Discard

Refreeze

Refreeze

Other

Casseroles-pasta, rice based

Flour, cornmeal, nuts

 

Refreeze

Refreeze

 

Discard

Refreeze

Prepared by: Sue Snider, Ph.D.
Professor/Food Safety and Nutrition Specialist
8/12



Original Publication Date:

Cooperative Extension Education in Agriculture and Home Economics, University of Delaware, Delaware State University and the United States Department of Agriculture cooperating. Distributed in furtherance of Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. It is the policy of the Delaware Cooperative Extension System that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, disability, age, or national origin.

Disclaimer: Reference to commercial products or trade names does not imply endorsement by University of Delaware Cooperative Extension or bias against those not mentioned.

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