When the power goes out, food preservation might be one of your first thoughts. With the refrigerator and freezers kept closed, temperatures stay low, but how do you know if they stay safe? There are some easy tips to follow if you find yourself with a power outage and lots of food to salvage. 

First of all, never taste food to determine its safety. Once realizing the power has gone out, do not open the refrigerator or freezer. Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. Each time the doors open, cold air escapes, putting your food at risk of falling into the temperature danger zone. The temperature danger zone is 40 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In this temperature range, bacterium grow quickly. 

The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half-full and the door remains closed). The most unfortunate of circumstances are when the time of the power outage is unknown. If food is found thawed with no indication to how long, dispose of all food immediately. The financial loss and frustration is no excuse to risk foodborne illness. Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. 

When dealing with long power outages, be proactive and plan for lengthier storage of your cold food. Obtain block ice or dry ice to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible. This is only necessary when the power is off longer than four hours and the doors left unopened. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for two days. 

If the power has been out for several days, check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer or food thermometer. If the food still contains ice crystals or is at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, the food is safe. If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, then check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice crystals, the food is safe. Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after four hours without power. 

Losing food due to power outages can be terribly frustrating. My main motto when it comes to food safety is “when in doubt, throw it out.” No case of food poisoning is worth saving food. 

If you would like more information on this topic or others, come by your local K-State Research and Extension – Leavenworth County office at 613 Holiday Plaza in Lansing, call our office at 913-364-5700 or email Chelsi Myer at chelsim@ksu.edu

Chelsi Myer is a family and consumer sciences agent for K-State Research and Extension – Leavenworth County.