You’re safe at home while a powerful storm rages outside, and suddenly, there’s a house-wide “click” followed by silence. Now you’re sitting in the dark in the middle of a power outage. You may have a store of flashlights, batteries, candles and matches—but have you given any thought to what to do about the perishables in your refrigerator? And, how can you determine whether the food in there will be safe to eat when the power eventually comes back on?
The Red Cross says a full freezer will preserve perishables twice as long as a half-full freezer.
To help families avoid health issues due to food poisoning, both the American Red Cross and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) publish clear guidelines on food safety following the loss of power due to severe weather.
You can’t always be prepared for an extended power outage. But by reviewing the following tips now and taking appropriate steps before a predicted extreme weather pattern hits, you can help keep your food safe to eat—or know when it is not.
Set both freezer and refrigerator temperatures to the proper levels. The USDA recommends dropping the internal temperature of your freezer to or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Likewise, the chilled section of your refrigerator should be set to or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place appliance thermometers in both the refrigerated and freezer sections of your refrigerator while you still have power. This enables you to see at a glance the internal temperature of your fridge after the power is off. The Red Cross also recommends having a quick-read digital kitchen thermometer on hand to test the temperature of individual items once your power returns.
Pack your freezer with frozen foods and ice well before any storm does damage to your power supply. Remember: The Red Cross says a fully filled freezer will preserve the perishables stored inside of it twice as long as a half-full freezer. Fill as many ice cube trays as you have on hand, and if freezer/cooler space permits, purchase extra ice.
Consider packing a picnic cooler with ice, drinks and snacks. By having a temporary supply of food and beverages on hand, you prevent unnecessary opening and closing of your refrigerator’s doors during the power outage. This allows the appliance to keep perishables stored safely for as long as possible.
Place a battery-operated clock/timer by your fridge. As soon as you lose power, note the time and hit the start timer button.
Keep your appliance’s doors closed. This will help its internal temperature remain as low as possible for as long as possible.
Keep an eye on the time. The Red Cross estimates a refrigerator’s unopened chilled section will keep perishable foods (stored at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit before power loss) safe for approximately two hours.
For the freezer section of your appliance, the USDA estimates that a full, unopened freezer will keep frozen foods safe for two days. A half-full freezer will keep foods safe for up to a day.
When the power returns, just keep the golden rule of food safety in mind: When in doubt, throw it out!