How to Keep Food Fresh and Safe During a Power Outage

Know what you can keep, what to throw out, and how to use what you have.

When the power goes out, a rush of panic inevitably sets in for so many reasons. If you cherish the contents of your fridge and freezer, that dread may quickly spiral into: What about all my food? It's a valid concern. If you want to know how to keep your food safe during a power outage—think meat, cheese, condiments, and more—keep reading for tips and tricks.

Power Outage Prep

If you live where power outages are common, invest in an appliance thermometer that indicates the temperature in your fridge and freezer. According to the USDA, a working refrigerator should be no warmer than 40 degrees, as bacteria can grow above that temperature, which the USDA calls the "danger zone." Any typically refrigerated food that's been in the danger zone for a few hours risks being contaminated with a foodborne illness.

Since there's a limit on how long your fridge stays cool after the power goes out, it's also a good idea to keep a supply of non-perishable foods (which don't need to be refrigerated) in your pantry. Staples such as canned goods like beans, soup, and fish are good bets, as are items like nut butter and protein bars.

Lastly, if you're anticipating a power outage, make some large ice bricks using takeout containers, gallon bags, or other sealable vessels to put in a cooler during a power outage. If made from drinking water, they can also be used for hydration in a pinch.

The Four-Hour Rule

According to, fresh food is typically considered safe in the fridge for only about four hours after the power goes out. Any longer, and the USDA advises tossing perishables like raw meat, thawing meat, eggs, open sauces, and leafy greens. Other items that earn a one-way ticket to the trash include most leftovers (such as pizza), egg or tuna salad, and cooked pasta, rice, and potatoes, as well as milk, opened creamy dressings, and cooked tofu. While the electricity isn't working, keep the fridge and freezer doors closed as much as possible to prevent cold air from escaping.

Safe-to-Eat Foods

A few safe-to-keep foods include hard cheeses, processed cheeses (not shredded), butter, uncut fruits and vegetables, open condiments like peanut butter and jelly (definitely not mayo) and non-creamy sauces like vinaigrettes and soy sauce.

As for your freezer, a full one stays in the safety cool zone for about 48 hours before you have to start tossing. A half-full freezer warms up quicker, so consider insulating it with some refrigerated items (like cut fruits and veggies, shredded cheese, and eggs cracked into a container) to spare your grocery bill and food waste, and keep your freezer closed as much as possible for two days. After 48 hours, if the food is still cold to the touch, as if refrigerated, it should be fine to refreeze. If the food has defrosted, it's best to toss it.

Prolonged Outage

Power still out? Consider an insulated high-end cooler, like a YETI, which can keep food cold for up to five days. Pack it tightly and then add ice, ice packs, or even dry ice (if you can find it, some ice cream parlors and restaurants sell it) to keep food at a safe temperature.

Preserve What You Have

There's no better time to embrace traditional food preservation techniques than during a power outage.

Consider blending cut veggies (provided you have a battery-powered mixer) into smoothies, gazpacho, agua fresca or sauces you can enjoy immediately or share with neighbors.

Air-dry fresh herbs to use later or add them to small bottles of high-proof alcohol (like vodka or gin) to infuse with flavor. Nothing like a post-blackout souvenir to remember your time in the dark.

This can also be a great time for countertop pickling, which leans on natural fermentation to turn hard veggies like cucumbers and beets into pickles. Kimchi, made from cabbage and sometimes radishes, is also made this way. Pickling by candlelight is a classic pastime.

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