HomeKitchenHow Long Will Food Last In A Fridge Without Power?

How Long Will Food Last In A Fridge Without Power?

It’s a hot summer day, your drinks and groceries are in the fridge, and so is your lunch – then, suddenly, there is a power outage. One of the first things that comes to your mind is how long your food will stay safe in the fridge and whether it will spoil or not. 

Let’s dive into the world of food safety and debunk the myths of safe and unsafe food storage practices during and after a power outage.

How Long Will Food Last in a Fridge Without Power?

Official sources claim that your refrigerator will keep food safe for up to 4 hours during a power outage. However, the period can be shorter or longer depending on multiple factors – how stocked the fridge is, whether you open the fridge door or not, and if you are prepared for a power outage and have ice packs that can keep the temperature in the fridge down.

If you keep opening the fridge doors, warm air will enter and increase the temperature, which encourages bacterial growth and causes food to spoil. Also, a poorly stocked fridge will maintain a proper temperature for a shorter amount of time.

On the other hand, if you place ice packs in the fridge or some frozen water bottles, the temperature will stay in the proper range for a longer time.

Even if you take all possible precautions, discard any perishable items, like meat, fish, eggs and opened dairy products if the power has been out for over 4 hours. These items can go off fairly quickly, and you may not notice they have started to turn. As a consequence, you may end up with a case of food poisoning. 

Foods You Should Throw Away

Practising food safety means knowing which items in your refrigerator should be discarded to avoid the risk of food poisoning. Certain foods that have been held above 4°C (40°F) for more than 2 hours should be discarded. 

Here is a list of foods that fall into this category:

  • Raw or cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood
  • Soy meat substitutes
  • Thawed meat or poultry
  • Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken or egg salad
  • Gravy, stuffing, broth
  • Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef
  • Pizzas with any toppings
  • Canned foods with a “Keep Refrigerated” label
  • Canned meats and fish which have been opened
  • Casseroles, soups, stews
  • Soft, shredded, and low-fat cheeses
  • Custards and puddings, quiche
  • Fresh fruits, if you notice they have started to go bad 
  • Sliced or shredded coconut
  • Opened creamy-based dressings
  • Fish sauces, oyster sauce
  • Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes
  • Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette
  • Fresh pasta
  • Cheesecake
  • Cream filled pastries
  • Any pies with filling containing eggs or milk
  • Fresh vegetables, if they have started to go off 
  • Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed or packaged
  • Cooked vegetables
  • Cooked tofu
  • Vegetable juice, if it’s been opened 
  • Baked potatoes
  • Potato salad

The list should be taken as a general guideline. Items from the “foods you may keep” list can also go bad, so it’s best to trust your gut. Does an item seem off? Does it smell weird, has its texture changed? If in doubt, throw it out. 

Foods You Can Keep But Check Before Eating

While some foods need to be discarded if they have been held above 4°C (40°F) for more than 2 hours, others may still be salvaged. However, it’s crucial to check each item carefully before consuming to ensure it’s safe.

Here is a list of foods you can probably keep but must thoroughly inspect to make sure they are still suitable for consumption:

  • Hard cheeses, such as Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, etc.
  • Processed cheeses
  • Butter, margarine
  • Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, ketchup
  • Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, hoisin sauces
  • Opened vinegar-based dressings
  • Olives, pickles
  • Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, tortillas
  • Waffles, pancakes, bagels
  • Fruit pies
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices
  • Fresh fruits
  • Opened fruit juices
  • Opened canned fruits
  • Dried fruits, raisins, candied fruits, dates

Note that this list is not complete either and that all foods should be thoroughly inspected before consumption. If you notice any changes in texture, colour, or smell, it is better to discard them to avoid foodborne illnesses.

What To Do With The Fridge While There Is No Power

When the power goes out, it is generally a good idea to unplug the fridge from the power source to prevent power surge damage once the power comes back. Also, while the power is out, keep the fridge door closed as much as possible. 

Keeping the door closed allows your food to stay safe for up to 4 hours in the fridge. You can extend this period by placing dry or block ice in the fridge to keep it as cold as possible if the power outage lasts for a long time.

Be careful when handling dry ice, and always follow safety measures that keep you safe:

  • Use gloves or tongs when handling dry ice.
  • Ensure there is proper ventilation in the fridge to prevent carbon dioxide build-up, although the quantity of dry ice used in a regular refrigerator is unlikely to produce enough carbon dioxide to cause a health problem.
  • Avoid placing dry ice on the food as it can cause freezing or freezer burn. The best place for dry ice is at the bottom of the unit.
  • Use about 10 pounds of dry ice per day to maintain a proper temperature in the fridge.

You can also place frozen water bottles in the fridge to keep it cool. 

How To Preserve Food in The Fridge While the Power Is Out

The basic rule for preserving food in the fridge during a power outage is to keep the fridge door closed. Doing so will keep the food safe for up to four hours. You can also prolong that period by placing block ice or dry ice in the fridge, which will allow the fridge to maintain the proper temperature longer.

If you know a power cut is coming, prepare your fridge in time. If it’s a sudden power outage and you’ve not had time to place any ice in the fridge, keep the door closed and stay patient. You may need to throw some items out, but that’s just how life is sometimes. 

What To Do With The Fridge When the Power Comes Back

When the power comes back, plug the fridge back in and determine the safety of your food. If you have a thermometer in the fridge, check the temperature of the fridge when the power is restored. 

Follow the guidelines from this article and determine which foods are safe to keep and which should be discarded.

Note that a fridge may need up to 12 hours to get completely cool again

If there’s a mess in the fridge, make sure to clean it right away. Regularly cleaning your fridge anyway will also help prevent any bacteria from multiplying. 

How To Prepare a Fridge for a Power Outage

Preparing your fridge for a power outage is always better than discarding food after it. Follow these guidelines to prepare your fridge for a power outage and keep your food safe:

  • Keep an appliance thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer. Check the temperature on the thermometer after the power outage to help you determine if the food has been kept at the right temperature or not.
  • Freeze containers of water to help keep food cold in the fridge if the power goes out. The water containers can also serve as drinking water if your regular water supply is contaminated or unavailable.
  • Group foods together to help it stay cold longer.
  • Prepare coolers to help keep refrigerated food cold if the power is out for more than 4 hours.
  • Purchase dry ice, make ice cubes in advance, or freeze gel packs which you can put in the freezer for future use in the refrigerator or coolers.

Wrapping Up 

If a power outage occurs, your best course of action is not to keep opening the fridge door. Let the appliance stay as cool as it can without your interference, and when the power does come back, do damage control and see what items you can keep, and what you will need to throw out. 


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