Power Out? What to Do With the Food in the Fridge


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It’s a nightmare scenario: The power went out for 12 hours and your refrigerator is full of food. Welp, gotta dump everything in the trash, right? Not so fast. We have trusted food safety tips so you know what you can keep and what you definitely need to ditch from your fridge.

The Refrigerator

How long will food be OK in the fridge without power?

If the doors stay closed, the CDC says the food in the fridge will be okay to eat for up to four hours. Try to open the refrigerator as little as possible. This will keep the temperature inside colder for longer. If you don’t have one, now is the time to buy an appliance thermometer to make sure your refrigerator is at a safe temperature (before you experience a power outage); between 35 and 38°F is optimal. Even the best refrigerator models could use a second opinion.

 

What foods are safe to eat after four hours?

If the power is out beyond four hours, you can still eat the food in the fridge for up to another two hours — provided the internal refrigerator temp is in the safe zone (35 to 38°F). After that, you risk getting sick. Ask yourself, “If I brought this food to a BBQ and it sat out all day, would I still eat it?” If you’re still unsure, scroll down for our handy guide on what to toss vs. what to keep.

brown eggs in the fridge door

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Foods to toss

  • Meat, Poultry, and Seafood: including foods that are cooked (deli meats, hot dogs), uncooked and any dish containing these items, such as stews, casseroles, salads and pasta
  • Dairy: any milk-based product, such as yogurt, sour cream, heavy cream, cream cheese, ricotta and foods containing these products, such as cheesecake, cannoli and baby formula if opened
  • Alt Milks: any kind, such as oat, almond, soy, coconut, etc.
  • Eggs: including raw, cooked and any foods made with eggs, such as frittatas, custards and lemon curd
  • Cheese: any soft cheese, either in block or shredded form
  • Tofu and plant-based meat substitutes
  • Fruit and vegetables: any produce that’s already cut up or cooked, pre-washed raw greens, fresh juices
  • Doughs: including pizza dough, cookie dough, refrigerator rolls and biscuits
  • Condiments: mayonnaise, creamy dressings, tomato sauce, oyster sauce, if left above 50°F for eight or more hours

Foods to Keep

  • Dairy: butter, margarine
  • Cheese: hard cheeses, like Swiss, Parmesan or pecorino romano, either in blocks, sliced or grated
  • Fruit and vegetables: including herbs; raw and whole, canned or dried fruits
  • Baked goods: bread, rolls, bagels, muffins, quick breads, tortillas and cakes
  • Condiments: ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, jam, jelly, nut butters, vinegar-based dressings, pickles and olives
unidentifiable male looking in an opened freezer drawer of a refrigerator

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The Freezer

During a power outage, frozen food will last longer than refrigerated foods. Count on up to 48 hours for a full freezer and 24 hours for one that’s half full, provided you keep the door closed. Just like bodies preserving warmth when they huddle up, frozen foods grouped together will help maintain the ideal temperature — for freezers, that’s 0°F.

Is there a food that didn’t make our list? Do not attempt your own taste test — when in doubt, throw it out! No food is worth salvaging for a bout of food poisoning.

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Recipe Editor

Susan (she/her) is the recipe editor at Good Housekeeping, where she pitches ideas, parses words, and produces food content. In the Test Kitchen, she cooks (and samples!) recipes, working with developers to deliver the best written versions possible. A graduate of Brown University and a collaborator on several cookbooks, her previous experience includes stints at Food & Wine, Food Network, three meal kit companies, a wine shop in Brooklyn, and Chez Panisse, the pioneering restaurant in Berkeley, California. She enjoys playing tennis, natural wines, and reality competition shows.



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