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How to Save the Food in Your Fridge During a Power Outage

A woman sitting on a couch with lit candles on a table during a power outage.
Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock.com

Power outages can happen throughout the year, but they can be particularly likely during the summer. If you’re not prepared, they can also be devastating to your perishable foods. Here’s how to save your groceries when the electricity goes out.

It can be merely annoying or downright scary whenever the power goes out—especially if it happens at night. For an outage that lasts for hours (or even days!), it’s helpful to know how long your food will be safe in the fridge and freezer, and what steps you can take to save it.

How Long Will Food Last During a Power Outage?

Frozen foods will last longer than refrigerated foods, but they will still go bad after too long. If your power is only out for two hours or less, you can go about your business knowing your food will be just fine. For an outage that lasts longer, you’ll likely be tossing a lot of groceries in the trash.

Foodsafety.gov offers a comprehensive list of which foods you should toss after a power outage based on how long they’ve been sitting in temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Many foods might need to be tossed after only two hours above that temperature, including meat products, milk, eggs, and most leftover meals.

Hard cheeses, whole fruits, uncut veggies, and most condiments are usually safe. However, opened containers of mayonnaise and tartar sauce should be thrown away if they are at temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit for more than eight hours.

After a power outage, it’s a good idea to follow the old mantra, “when in doubt, throw it out.” No one likes wasting food or throwing expensive groceries in the trash, but it’s not worth risking your health. If anyone eats something filled with bacteria, they’ll most likely get very sick.

Fortunately, there are quite a few things you can do to prevent losing any groceries during a power outage. Let’s look at how you can prepare, as well as some options for keeping your food cold for as long as possible.

Follow the Weather

A man looking at a weather app on a phone.
New Africa/Shutterstock.com

Whether you’re caught by surprise or you know inclement weather is heading your way, try to have multiple ways you can track it, including if the power goes out. It’s a good idea to remain tuned in to a local weather channel on TV or radio for as long as possible during a thunderstorm.

If your power does go out, a weather app you can check on your phone is an easy way to keep up with what’s going on. Of course, if the battery dies on your phone, you’ll need yet another backup, which is why a weather radio is an excellent investment.

While not every storm will affect your electricity, it’s far more likely to occur during one, and it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

Check Fridge and Freezer Temperatures

The first thing to do to make sure your food is prepped for a power outage is to make sure your freezer and refrigerator are set at the right temperatures for optimal food safety.

The FDA recommends you keep your refrigerator temp set at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. This will help you out immensely in the case of a power outage.

Keep Fridge and Freezer Doors Closed

The more you open the fridge and freezer doors, the faster the temperatures in both will rise. If you need to take stuff out of either, take it all out at once and as quickly as possible.

It might also be wise to keep foods you plan to eat during the outage in a cooler with ice, so you don’t have to disturb the appliances.

Keep the Icemaker Full

Someone getting ice out of an icemaker in a freezer.
Dovzhykov Andriy/Shutterstock.com

To help keep things cooler when the power is out, having lots of ice in the freezer will really come in handy. After all, your refrigerator is just one giant cooler.

Gel ice packs can come in handy, as well. The frozen foods in your freezer can also help keep the foods around them colder for longer, so group foods closely together on the shelves.

You might also want to pick up some dry or block ice to help keep your refrigerator colder. This is especially ideal during lengthy power outages, as 50 pounds of dry ice can keep your freezer cold for up to two days.

Freeze the Food in the Fridge

If you know a nasty storm is heading your way, you might want to go ahead and freeze the stuff you have in the refrigerator.

Most refrigerated foods, including milk and meats, will be fine if they’re just frozen temporarily. It takes a while for foods to thaw out (exact times depend on the density of each food), so freezing stuff will make it last longer during an outage.

Have a Backup Cooling Plan

Unfortunately, in some locations, the power can go out for days at a time. Naturally, when that happens, you want to do what you can to save your food. If the electricity is out for more than two hours, it’s beneficial to have a plan B when it comes to keeping refrigerated foods cold.

One thing you can do is move everything into a smaller space with ice, like a cooler. This will also make your perishables easy to transport if you need to go stay somewhere else.

You also might want to work out a plan with a family member or friend who lives nearby and doesn’t always lose power when you do. If you can store your perishables in their fridge while your power is out, your problem will be solved!

Also, if you or someone you know works at a store or restaurant, you might be able to take some stuff there to store for a short time until the power is back on.

Consider Investing in a Generator

An orange generator sitting on a patio.

If you experience power outages often during storm seasons, investing in a generator to keep your refrigerator powered up might pay for itself quickly in the amount of food you save from the trash.

If you’re new to generators, just be sure to read all the instructions and follow all the safety protocols when using it.

Power outages can be devastating to your wallet if you have to toss hundreds of dollars worth of groceries. With a little preparation, though, you can save your food and your money during even the worst of storms.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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