Keeping Food Safe During a Power Outage


Sooner or later every home experiences a power outage due to snowstorms, thunderstorms, high winds, or maybe the refrigerator has simply just quit.  Whatever the reason, dealing with the food involved when the appliance is off requires knowledge of food safety.  The USDA recommends the following guidelines.


  1. Keep the freezer door closed.  Keep what cold air you have inside.  Do not open the door any more than necessary.  You will be relieved to know that a full freezer will stay at freezing temperatures about 2 days, a half of freezer about 1 day.  If your freezer is not full, group packages so they form an igloo to protect each other.  Place them to one side or the other or on a tray so that if they begin thawing their juices won't get on other food.


  1. If you think the power may be off for several days, try to find dry ice.   To locate a distributor of dry ice, look under "ice" or Carbon Dioxide in the phone book.  Buy 25 pounds of dry ice to keep a 10-cubic foot freezer full of food safe 3-4 days; half full 2-3 days.  A full 18-cubic foot freezer requires 50-100 pounds of dry ice to keep food safe 2 days; half full less than 2 days.  Handle dry ice with caution and in a well-ventilated area.  DO NOT TOUCH IT WITH YOUR BARE HANDS, use gloves or tongs.  The temperature of dry ice is -216 degrees, therefore it may cause freezer burns on items located near it or touching it.  Wrap dry ice in brown paper for longer storage. One large piece lasts longer than small ones.  Separate dry ice from food using a piece of cardboard.  Although dry ice can be used inice can be used in the refrigerator, block ice is better.  You can put it in the refrigerator's freezing unit along with your perishables such as meat, poultry and dairy items.


  1. In general refrigerated items should be safe as long as power is out no more than 4 hours.  Keep the door closed as much as possible.  Discard any perishable foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers that have been above 40 degrees for two hours or more and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture, or feels warm to the touch.


  1. Be prepared for all power outages.  If you live in an area where loss of electricity from summer or winter storms is a problem, you can plan ahead for the worst.  Stock up on shelf stable foods- canned goods, juices and no-freeze entrees.  Plan ahead on how you can keep foods cold.  Buy some freeze-pak inserts and keep them frozen.  Buy a cooler.  Freeze water in plastic containers or store bags of ice.  Develop freezer-sharing plans with friends in another part of town or in a nearby area.


  1. Be sure to discard any fully cooked items in either the freezer or the refrigerator that have come in contact with raw meat juices.  Remember, you can't rely on appearance or odor.  Never taste food to determine its safety.  Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they have been at room temperature too long, bacteria that cause foodborne illness can begin to grow very rapidly.  Some types will reproduce toxins that are not destroyed by cooking.


Remember the old adage:  "When in doubt throw it out."


For more information contact the USDA at 1-800-535-4555, or the Vigo County Health Department at 812-462-3281.