Power Outages

Emergencies happen and can result in power outages or flooding that could jeopardize the safety of your food.  Food stored in refrigerators and freezers can become unsafe.  Bacteria in food grow rapidly between 40°F and 140°F.  Flood waters that come into contact with food can contaminate it.  Know how to determine if the food is safe and how to keep food safe to minimize the potential loss of food and reduce the risk of foodborne illness. 

The best time to decide how to handle such an emergency is before it happens!

Be Prepared:

  1. Keep an appropriate thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer
    • The refrigerator should be at or below 40°F
    • The freezer should be at or below 0°F
  2. Prepare to keep food cold in the refrigerator, freezer, or in coolers with ice
    • Set the refrigerator and freezer to the coldest setting
    • Purchase or make ice in advance
    • Freeze refrigerated items that you may not need immediately
    • Group frozen food together in the freezer
    • Know where ice can be purchased
  3. Keep a stock of food items that do not require cold storage, cooking, water or special preparation
    • Store at least a 3-day supply of water and shelf-stable food
    • Remember any special dietary needs
    • Include your pets in the plan
    • Make sure to have a hand-held can opener
    • Store food on shelves in case of flooding
  4. Keep household bleach on hand

Keep Food Safe DURING an Emergency:

  1. Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed
    • An unopened refrigerator will keep food safe for about 4 hours
    • An unopened full freezer will hold the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half full)
    • Place ice in a pan on the bottom shelf (block ice works best)
    • Discard any food that has been at room temperature for 2 hours or more
  2. Thawed food can be eaten if it is “refrigerator” cold (≤40°F)
  3. Thoroughly cook perishable food when possible
  4. Keep a supply of bottled or boiled water
  5. Clean only with safe water

Keep Food Safe AFTER Power is Restored:

  1. Check the temperature inside the refrigerator and freezer
    • If the freezer thermometer reads 40°F or below, the food is safe to refreeze
    • If the food contains ice crystals or is 40°F or below, it is safe to refreeze
    • Refrigerators normally hold temperature for 4 hours (40°F) and product will be safe
    • Some refrigerated foods may last longer.  To make food specific safety determinations, check the USDA “A Consumers Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes”

If Flooding Occurred:

  1. Do not eat food that may have come in contact with flood water
  2. Clean and sanitize if flood water has contaminated food contact surfaces
  3. If you have a well that has been flooded, the water should be tested


Additional Resources:


Revised 08/15
University of Rhode Island
Cooperative Extension Food Safety Education