How long is food good in the fridge and freezer after a power outage?

·2 min read

Severe storms moved through Wisconsin on Wednesday and Wednesday night, bringing tornadoes, damaging winds and heavy rain that downed trees and power lines, leaving tens of thousands of residents without power.

About 89,000 electric utility customers remain without power in the state, Wisconsin Emergency Management said in a statement just before noon on Thursday.

When the power goes out, all perishable food in the refrigerator and freezer is at risk of spoiling, and it may not be safe to eat even after power comes back on.

Here's what food safety experts recommend we do before, during and after a power outage.

How long is food good in the fridge without power?

During a power outage, the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends keeping refrigerator and freezer doors closed.

But even with the doors closed, the food will only stay safe for four hours or so in the refrigerator. It all depends on how warm the temperature becomes inside the fridge. It can also depend on the type of food.

Refrigerated or frozen food may not be safe to eat after a power outage. Here's what you should know.
Refrigerated or frozen food may not be safe to eat after a power outage. Here's what you should know.

Freezers have a bit more time as long as the doors are closed. A full freezer can keep food safe for 48 hours. A half-full freezer can keep things safe for 24 hours.

If the power has been out for four hours and a cooler and ice is available, then put refrigerated perishable foods in the cooler. Add ice or a cold source like frozen gel packs to keep the food at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

What about after power is restored?

After the power comes back on, here's what you should do to determine the safety of your food:

If you have an appliance thermometer, check the temperature. If the freezer is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, the food is safe and can be refrozen.

If you don't have a thermometer, check each package of food to determine its safety, and don't rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it's safe to refreeze or cook.

More: There's a power outage, and you're hungry—what can you cook?

If power was out for more than four hours, food in the refrigerator might be safe as long as the doors were kept closed.

Once power comes back on, check the temperature and discard any perishable foods — including meat, poultry, seafood, milk, eggs or leftovers — that have been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for four hours or more.

To help determine the safety of specific food items, use the power outage safety chart from FoodSafety.gov. 

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Joe Taschler of the USA TODAY Network - Wisconsin contributed to this report. 

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: After a power outage, how long is food safe in refrigerator, freezer?