Food Safety during a Power Outage: Refrigerated Food and Power Outages

If you’re like me, and you do a lot of hunting and fishing, then your freezer is probably packed full of all sorts of meats. One question that we get quite a bit – especially after a large storm takes down the power lines – is about food safety. People just don’t know what to do with all that food once the power goes out.

  • Is the food safe to eat?
  • Is there a way to save your food once the power goes out?

It all comes back to Preparedness.

Planning Ahead:

  • Keep it Full: A full freezer will hold its temperature for around 48 hours, but only 24 hours if half-full. Empty spaces in your freezer should be filled with frozen plastic jugs of water. Not only will this help keep the food cold during a power outage, but it will also cut down on your electric bill as the freezer won’t have to work as hard to keep the food cold. Once thawed, the jugs can serve as an extra emergency water source.
  • Buy an Appliance Thermometer: Keeping an appliance thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer can help you determine when your foods about to hit the danger zone. Make sure the refrigerator temperature is at 40 °F or below and the freezer is at 0 °F or below. Once the temperature goes above those numbers, your food has hit the danger zone.
  • Buy a Generator: During a power outage situation, an emergency generator can help keep the essentials going. If you have the money, and you live in an area that’s prone to storm related power outages, buying a generator should be at the top of your list.
  • Have an alternative: The bulk of your short-term emergency food supply should be made up of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling.

What to eat when the power goes out?

As a rule of thumb, most of your short-term emergency food supply should be made up of ready-to-eat foods that need very little preparation. Canned goods, packaged foods and other food items that do not require cooking are all things that you should stock up on now.

  • Grab the Cooler: Once the power goes out, I suggest grabbing a cooler and a couple of your frozen water jugs. Anything that you know you’re going to need should be put into the cooler. This will keep you from needlessly opening the refrigerator and freezer doors.
  • Have a way to cook it: I recommend having some sort of outdoor stove or grill. I have both a propane grill and an EcoZoom Rocket Stove for when things get really tough. I did a small review on the stove here.

Know when to save or throw out food following a power outage.

When it comes to eating food after a power outage, each item should be checked for signs of spoilage. That being said, there are some general rules that should keep you safe.

Refrigerator Foods

FOODHeld above 40 °F for over 2 hours
Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes
Thawing meat or poultryDiscard
Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, or egg saladDiscard
Gravy, stuffing, brothDiscard
Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beefDiscard
Pizza, with any toppingDiscard
Canned hams labeled “Keep Refrigerated”Discard
Canned meats and fish, openedDiscard
Soft Cheeses: blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco
Hard Cheeses: Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, RomanoSafe
Processed CheesesSafe
Shredded CheesesDiscard
Low-fat CheesesDiscard
Grated Parmesan, Romano, or combination (in can or jar)Safe
Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk
Butter, margarineSafe
Baby formula, openedDiscard
Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products
Custards and puddingsDiscard
Fresh fruits, cut
Fruit juices, openedSafe
Canned fruits, openedSafe
Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, datesSafe
Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish
Discard if above 50 °F for over 8 hrs.
Peanut butterSafe
Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, picklesSafe
Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, Hoisin saucesSafe
Fish sauces (oyster sauce)Discard
Opened vinegar-based dressingsSafe
Opened creamy-based dressingsDiscard
Spaghetti sauce, opened jarDiscard
Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas
Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie doughDiscard
Cooked pasta, rice, potatoesDiscard
Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigretteDiscard
Fresh pastaDiscard
Breakfast foods—waffles, pancakes, bagelsSafe
Pastries, cream filled
Pies—custard, cheese filled, or chiffon; quicheDiscard
Pies, fruitSafe
Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices
Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packagedDiscard
Vegetables, rawSafe
Vegetables, cooked; tofuDiscard
Vegetable juice, openedDiscard
Baked potatoesDiscard
Commercial garlic in oilDiscard
Potato SaladDiscard


Frozen Food

FOODStill contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigeratedThawed.
Held above 40 °F for over 2 hours
Beef, veal, lamb, pork, and ground meats

Poultry and ground poultryRefreezeDiscard
Variety meats (liver, kidney, heart, chitterlings)RefreezeDiscard
Casseroles, stews, soupsRefreezeDiscard
Fish, shellfish, breaded seafood productsRefreeze. However, there will be some texture and flavor loss.Discard
Refreeze. May lose some texture.

Eggs (out of shell) and egg productsRefreezeDiscard
Ice cream, frozen yogurtDiscardDiscard
Cheese (soft and semi-soft)Refreeze. May lose some texture.Discard
Hard cheesesRefreezeRefreeze
Shredded cheesesRefreezeDiscard
Casseroles containing milk, cream, eggs, soft cheesesRefreezeDiscard
JuicesRefreezeRefreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops.
Home or commercially packagedRefreeze. Will change texture and flavor.Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops.
JuicesRefreezeDiscard after held above 40 °F for 6 hours.
Home or commercially packaged or blanchedRefreeze. May suffer texture and flavor loss.Discard after held above 40 °F for 6 hours.
Breads, rolls, muffins, cakes (without custard fillings)RefreezeRefreeze
Cakes, pies, pastries with custard or cheese fillingRefreezeDiscard
Pie crusts, commercial and homemade bread doughRefreeze. Some quality loss may occur.Refreeze. Quality loss is considerable.
Casseroles—pasta, rice basedRefreezeDiscard
Flour, cornmeal, nutsRefreezeRefreeze
Breakfast items—waffles, pancakes, bagelsRefreezeRefreeze
Frozen meal, entree, specialty items (pizza, sausage and biscuit, meat pie, convenience foods)RefreezeDiscard
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  1. We now have a generator and the plan is to keep the fridge and freezer running with it. You don’t have to keep them running constantly. We plan to set both to their lowest temperature and run the generator every few hours to keep things cold. Obviously, we can not do this forever, so if it looks like it is a long term outage we will start consuming what is in them first and save our emergency supplies for later. Prior to getting a generator, if we had warning that a bad storm was coming, we would turn the temps down to their lowest setting and just not open the doors while the power was out. We also took extra frozen water jugs from the freezer and put them in the fridge.

  2. Being a hunter I learned a little trick to keep my game from getting freezer burned that also happens to work real nice for preserving the meat when the power goes out. I take my pheasants and ducks (skinned not plucked because I hate dealing with feathers)and take an old cardboard 1/2 gallon milk container and hang the bird in the container then fill it with water so the entire bird is submerged and drop it into the freezer. Then I can date the carton close it up. None of the meat is exposed outside the block which eliminates freezer burn and will also help keep the rest of the goods in the freezer cold since they are blocks of ice. In an emergency situation that block of ice that it is encased in can also supplement your soup base, drop the block into a pot of water and start cooking. Not long ago I was cleaning out the chest freezer and found a carton that had a pheasant that was 5 years old in it. I was curious and thawed it out. I was stunned that the meat still seemed just like it was before it froze so I cooked it up and it was still amazing and I experienced no ill effects either.

  3. So I’ve been wondering. Can you salt meat that has been frozen? Once it’s thawed you would treat it like fresh meat? Can’t find any info on this.

  4. Why would you throw the eggs? If the shell’s intact, they’ll keep just fine for at least a week, usually longer.

    Aside from jerking or salting, one could can the thawing meat. Takes a while, but once you’re done, you can eat it out of the jar without further preparation. Plus, the flavor is great (with lesser amounts of spices used). Toss some of your excess, perishable veggies in with the meat when you can it and you’ve a two-fer.

  5. While yes, we have freezers and an emergency generator for them, canning our meat as time allows helps with not worrying about freezer burn and allows us to have “ready to eat meat”.

  6. One of the best ideas I have seen is using a temperature controller to turn a small chest freezer into a refrigerator. The superior insulation of a chest freezer combined with a higher temperature results in very low power use. In fact, about 1/10th of what your normal refrigerator uses. This means you can refrigerate your food with just a small solar panel or very little generator run time. Youtube has some videos on this subject.

  7. Eggs coated in mineral oil will keep for quite a while.

    Question? What about feta, And other goat cheeses?

  8. Man, just looking at some of these posts reminds of how much I still need to learn.

    About food, I am always the “worst case scenario” kind of prepper so most of the time the food I have stored always includes stuff that can go without refrigeration for 1-2 months like:

    – potaotoes/yams (great stowed with apples or onions)
    – onions (cooked onions keep amazingly long)
    – winter squash and garlic

    Again, thanks for the great info

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