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Food Safety

Food Safety Guide

Sudden power outages can be frustrating and troublesome, especially when they are prolonged. Perishable foods should not be held above 40 degrees for more than 2 hours. If a power outage is 2 hours or less, you need not be concerned, but how do you save your food when the refrigerator is out for longer times? Being prepared can help. By planning ahead, you can save your perishables.


  • One or more coolers. Inexpensive styrofoam coolers can do an excellent job as well. Shelf-stable foods, such as canned goods and powdered or boxed milk. These can be eaten cold or heated on the grill.
  • A digital quick-response thermometer. A digital thermometer should be a necessity in your kitchen anyway. With these thermometers you can quickly check the internal temperatures of food for doneness and safety. 

Do not open the refrigerator or freezer. Tell your little ones not to open the door. An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold enough for a couple of hours at least. A freezer that is half full will hold for up to 24 hours and a full freezer for 48 hours.

If it looks like the power outage will be for more than 2-4 hours, pack refrigerated milk, dairy products, meats, fish, poultry, eggs, gravy, stuffing and left-overs into your cooler surrounded by ice.

If it looks like the power outage will be prolonged, prepare a cooler with ice for your freezer items. 


Q. What should be discarded after a power outage? 
As soon as the power returns, check temperatures. If the food in the freezer has ice crystals and is not above 40 degrees you can refreeze. Perishable foods in the refrigerator should not be above 40 degrees F. for more than two hours. Use this chart to see what has to be discarded and what can be kept.

Q. What if I go to bed and the power is still not on? 
Before you go to bed, pack your perishables into your coolers if you haven't already done so and put in as much ice as you can. Also, when you go to bed, leave a bedroom light switched on. When the power goes back on, it will wake you, so you can check the condition of your foods in the freezer.

Q. What if the power goes out while I’m at work or out of the house and it has been more than a few hours before I get home? 
Try to determine how long the power has been out. Check the internal temperature of the food in your refrigerator with your quick-response thermometer. A liquid such as milk or juice is easy to check. Spot check other items like steaks or left-overs also. If the internal temperature is above 40 degrees, it is best to throw it out.

Q. What if the power goes out and comes back on while I am out? 
If your freezer is fairly full and you know it was not longer than 24 hours, the food should be okay. There will be loss of quality with refreezing, but the food will be safe. If the refrigerator was out for more than 2-4 hours, you are best to discard the perishables.


 Meat and Mixed Dishes:  Still Contains Ice Crystals. Not Above  40° F  Thawed, Held Above  40°F For Over 2 Hours
 Beef, veal, lamb, pork, poultry, ground  meat and poultry  Refreeze  Discard
 Casseroles with meat, pasta, rice, egg or  cheese base, stews, soups, convenience  foods, pizza  Refreeze  Discard
 Fish, shellfish, breaded seafood products  Refreeze  Discard


 Dairy:  Still Contains Ice Crystals. Not  Above 40° F  Thawed, Held Above 40° F For  Over 2 Hours
 Milk  Refreeze  Discard
 Eggs (out of shell) egg products  Refreeze  Discard
 Ice cream, frozen yogurt  Discard  Discard
 Cheese (soft and semi soft) cream  cheese ricotta  Refreeze  Discard
 Hard cheese (cheddar Swiss  parmesan)  Refreeze  Refreeze


 Dairy/Eggs/Cheese:  Food Still Cold, Held At 40° F  Or Above Under 2 Hours  Held Above 40° F For Over 2  Hours
 Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk,  evaporated, milk yogurt  Keep  Discard
 Butter, margarine  Keep  Keep
 Baby Formula, opened  Keep  Discard
 Eggs, egg dishes, custards puddings  Keep  Discard
 Hard & processed cheeses  Keep  Keep
 Soft cheeses, cottage cheese  Keep  Discard


 Baked Goods Baking  Ingredients:  Still Contains Ice Crystals. Not  Above 40° F  Thawed, Held Above 40° F For  Over 2 Hours
 Fruit Juices  Refreeze  Refreeze
 Flour, cornmeal, nuts  Refreeze  Discard after 6 hours
 Pie Crusts, Breads, rolls, muffins,  cakes (no custard fillings)  Refreeze  Discard if above 50° for over 8  hours.
 Cakes, pies, pastries with custard or  cheese filling, cheesecake  Refreeze  Discard
 Commercial and homemade bread  dough  Refreeze  Refreeze


 Meat, Poultry, Seafood:  Food Still Cold, Held At 40° F Or  Above Under 2 Hours  Held Above 40° F For Over 2  Hours
 Fresh or leftover meat, poultry, fish,  or seafood  Keep  Discard
 Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon,  sausage, dried beef  Keep  Discard
 Canned meats NOT labeled "Keep  Refrigerated" but refrigerated after  opening  Keep  Discard
 Canned hams labeled "Keep  Refrigerated"  Keep  Discard


 Mixed Dishes, Side Dishes:  Food Still Cold, Held At 40° F Or  Above Under 2 Hours  Held Above 40° F For Over 2  Hours
 Casseroles, soups, stews, pizza with  meat  Keep  Discard
 Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, or egg  salad  Keep  Discard
 Cooked pasta, Pasta salads with  mayonnaise or vinegar base  Keep  Discard
 Gravy stuffing  Keep  Discard


 Pies, Breads:  Food Still Cold, Held At 40° F Or  Above Under 2 Hours  Held Above 40° F For Over 2  Hours
 Cream or cheese filled pastries and  pies  Keep  Discard
 Fruit pies  Keep  Keep
 Breads, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick  breads  Keep  Keep
 Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie  dough  Keep  Discard


 Sauces, Spreads, Jams:  Food Still Cold, Held At 40° F Or  Above Under 2 Hours  Held Above 40° F For Over 2  Hours
 Mayonnaise, tartar sauce,  horseradish  Keep  Discard
 Opened salad dressing, jelly, relish,  taco and barbeque sauce, mustard,  catsup, olives  Keep  Keep


Original content adapted from "Help, Power Outage!" Food News for Consumers, Summer 1989, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service. ARC 1098 September 1999


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