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Massive Winter Storm Blankets the Midwest, Moves East: Ensure Food Safety When the Power Goes Out

Posted by Diane Van, Manager, USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline in Health and Safety
Feb 21, 2017

Snow, sleet, ice, and wind can wreak havoc on our every day lives. Winter!  It's a fact of modern life: sometimes the power goes out.

If your power goes out, knowing how to keep food safe can help minimize the loss of food and reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

I have put together some helpful power outage guidelines from USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline to help you Be Food Safe if your power does go out.

Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.

  • A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if the door is kept closed.
  • A full freezer will keep temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full). If your freezer is not full, group packages so they form an "igloo" to protect each other. Place them to one side or on a tray so that if they begin thawing, their juices won't get on other foods.
  • With frozen food: check for ice crystals! The food in your freezer that partially or completely thaws before power is restored may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 °F or below.
    • When the power comes back on, you will have to evaluate each item separately. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • If the power is going to be out for an extended period of time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

Don't place frozen foods outside in the snow.

If your power is out due to a snowstorm, the sun's rays can thaw frozen food even when the temperature is very cold. In addition, animals could discover your stash. Instead, take advantage of the cold temperatures by making ice outside. Fill buckets, empty milk cartons, or cans with clean water and leave them outside to freeze. Then put the "homemade ice" in your refrigerator, freezer, or coolers.

Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer at all times.

This will take away the guesswork of just how cold the unit is because it will give you the exact temperature. The key to determining the safety of food in the refrigerator and freezer lies in knowing how cold they are.

  • Discard any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture, or feels warm to the touch.
  • Never taste a food to determine its safety!

For additional information on Emergency Preparedness, go here.

Food safety questions? "Ask Karen," the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at, or call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).The Hotline is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.

Follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or @USDAFoodSafe_es

Category/Topic: Health and Safety

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Norma Baskette
Sep 14, 2011

A freezer can last for a surprisingly long time when the powers out in winter - over a day easily provided you're not going crazy with the central heating.