Keeping Food Safely
and After a Power Failure
During a power failure, cooking and eating habits
must change to fit the situation. You may have no
heat, no refrigeration, and limited hot water. In addition, health risks from contaminated or spoiled
food may increase.
Symptoms of foodborne illness
These symptoms can appear from four
hours to 96 hours after eating suspect food.
The following are guidelines for storing and preparing
food during a power outage. Keep in mind that
many of these tips are applicable only in the event of
a prolonged power outage.
Consider the amount of cooking time needed for
particular foods. If you have limited heat for
cooking, choose foods that cook quickly. Prepare
casseroles and one-dish meals, or serve no-cook
Alternative cooking methods include:
A fireplace. Many foods can be skewered, grilled
or wrapped in foil and cooked in the fireplace.
Candle warmers. Devices using candle warmers
such as fondue pots may be used if no other heat
sources are available.
Camp stoves and charcoal burners.
These may be
used outside your home.
Never use fuel-burning
camp stoves or charcoal burners inside
your home, even in a fireplace.
Fumes from these
stoves can be deadly.
Do not cook frozen foods unless you have ample
heat for cooking. Some frozen foods require
considerable more cooking time and heat than
canned goods. Also, if power is off, it is best to leave
the freezer door closed to keep food from thawing.
Commercial canned foods can be eaten straight from
the can. Do not use home canned vegetables unless
you have the means to boil them for 10 minutes
Observe Health Precautions
If you are without refrigeration, open only enough
food containers for one meal. Some foods can be
kept a short time without refrigeration. If available, packaged survival or camping foods are safe.
serve foods that spoil easily, such as ground meats,
creamed foods, hash, custards and meat pies. These
are potential sources of foodborne illness.
Canned milk will keep safely for many hours after
being opened and can be substituted for fresh milk.
If you are using canned milk to feed a baby, however, open a fresh can for each bottle. Use
powdered milk immediately after it is mixed if you
have no refrigeration.
If safe water or water disinfectants are unavailable, use canned or bottled
fruit juices instead of water. Prepare and eat foods in
their original containers, if possible. This will help if
hot water for washing dishes is limited.
Safety of Frozen Foods
When anticipating a power failure set the
refrigerator and freezer temperature to the coldest
setting to build up a cooling reserve and keep your
freezer door closed. Food in well-fitted, 4-cubic-foot
home freezers will not begin to spoil in fewer than
five days, and may be all right seven or eight days if
the food is very cold.
With the door closed, food in most freezers will stay
below 41° F up to three days, even
in summer. Do not put hot foods into the freezer
since this will increase the temperature.
rate depends on:
The amount of food in the freezer. A full freezer
stays cold longer than a partially full one.
The kind of food. A freezer filled with meat stays
cold longer than a freezer filled with baked
The temperature of the food. The colder the food,
the longer it will stay frozen.
The freezer. A well-insulated freezer keeps food
frozen longer than one with little insulation.
Size of freezer. The larger the freezer, the longer
food stays frozen.
When the Food has Thawed
Partial thawing and re-freezing does reduce the
quality of foods, particularly fruits, vegetables and
prepared foods. Red meats are affected less than many other foods.
You may safely re-freeze some
foods if they still contain ice crystals or if they have
been kept at 41° F or below for no
more than two days. If the temperature is above 50° F, throw food away. Foods that
cannot be re-frozen but are safe to use may be canned immediately.
Treat completely thawed foods as follows:
Re-freeze fruits if they taste and smell
Fruit that is beginning to ferment is safe to
eat, but will have an off-flavor. Such fruit could
be used in cooking.
Frozen foods and dinners
Cook thawed frozen
foods and frozen dinners immediately if they are
Do not re-freeze.
If any foods have an offensive or questionable odor, do not eat.
Do not re-freeze thawed vegetables.
Bacteria in these foods multiply rapidly.
may begin before bad odors develop. Such
spoilage may be very toxic.
only if ice crystals remain throughout the
If you question the condition of any vegetables,
throw them out.
Meat and poultry
Meat and poultry become
unsafe to eat when they start to spoil.
each package of thawed meat or poultry. If odor
is offensive or questionable or if the freezer
temperature has exceeded 41° F
for two hours or longer, don't use. It may be
Discard all stuffed poultry.
thawed but unspoiled meat or
After cooking, meat can be re-frozen.
Fish and shellfish
These are extremely
Do not re-freeze unless ice crystals
remain throughout the package.
Seafood may be
spoiled, even if it has no offensive odor.
Do not re-freeze melted ice cream.
Discard or consume it in the liquid form before
Using Dry Ice
If it seems likely that your freezer will not be
operating properly within one or two days, dry ice
may help keep some frozen food from spoiling. The
more dry ice you use, the longer the food will stay
frozen. If a power outage is anticipated, and you
decide to use dry ice, locate a source in advance, and obtain it quickly.
Follow these guidelines for using and handling dry
Wear gloves when handling dry ice. Do not
touch it with your bare hands, because it causes
severe frostbite and tissue damage.
Allow 2 ½ to 3 pounds of ice per cubic foot of
freezer space (more will be needed for an upright
freezer, because ice should be placed on each
Gas given off by the dry ice needs a place
to escape. Open windows or doors to vent out
gas from dry ice.
Safety of Refrigerated Foods
You can extend your food supply by cooking all
unspoiled meat immediately. Cooked meat needs to
be kept above 135° F if it cannot be cooled below 45° F within two
Large, solid, unboned pieces of fresh beef or
lamb, such as rump roast or leg of lamb, are least
susceptible to quick spoilage.
Most chopped meats, poultry and seafood
sandwich fillings should be discarded after two
hours without refrigeration.
Uncured sausage is vulnerable to contamination
because it is free of preservatives.
Keep frozen as
long as possible and then cook before it is completely thawed.
Raw chopped meats, like hamburger, spoil
quickly. Pork, fish and poultry spoil quickly.
Dispose of them if they have been in the
refrigerator without power for 12 hours or more.
Do not trust your sense of smell.
Hard cheese usually keeps well at room
temperatures. Other cheeses, such as cream
cheese, opened containers of cheese spreads and
cottage cheese, spoil quickly.
Throw out when
If surface mold develops on
blocks of cheese, slice 1-inch below the surface
Milk spoils quickly without refrigeration. Throw
out spoiled milk.
Custard, gravies and creamed foods should be
disposed of if they have warmed to room
Spoilage is difficult to detect since
there may be no offensive odor or taste.
Commercially made baked goods with cream
fillings and all foods containing high protein and
moisture are not safe unless they have been stored in a cold place such as a cooler with ice.